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January 8, 2009

Do hangover cures really work?

how sam sessa deals with hangoversSun blogger Liz (of Consuming Interests fame) asked if I'd ever done a post about hangover cures. For some reason, I don't think I have.

That's probably because when I have a hangover, I don't want to write about it. And when I'm not hungover, I try not to think about being hungover.

Usually, I just guzzle water all day (much like the person in this photo).

But Elizabeth Large's (technically OMG) blog post about ancient hangover remedies about a week or two back, which jogged my memory. And while I'm sure I'm not the first person to write about hangover cures, I'm really curious to see what your own remedies are.

Also, our favorite medical site, WebMD, recently published a guide to hangover cures, although it was more of a guide of what not to take for a hangover ...

champagneI have a few quibbles with some of the things WebMD is saying in this piece. Dig this:

WEBMD MYTH: Coffee is the Cure

Coffee leads to more dehydration and could make your hangover worse. After a night of drunkenness, it’s best to avoid anything with caffeine. Instead, sip water and sports drinks to counter dehydration and replace lost electrolytes. This is especially important if you experienced any vomiting.

Sam's take: If I don't have a hangover, skipping coffee in the morning will give me one.

WEBMD MYTH: Eat Pasta Before Bed

WEBMD FACT: This one is wrong on two counts. First, eating at bedtime (after you’re already drunk) is no help. Food has to be in your stomach before Happy Hour to have any impact. Second, while any food can slow the body’s absorption of alcohol, fat does it best. So go for steak or pizza before your first martini, and you might escape a hangover. One bedtime tip that does help – drink water to fight dehydration.

Sam's take:
As an Italian, I object to such heresy. Eating something post-drink and pre-bed makes me feel much better in the morning. It's like the food acts as a sponge, sopping up all the alcohol in my tummy. But I do love steak, regardless of whether I'm drinking. Maybe I ought to drink more when I have steak. Mmm ... steak.

WEBMD MYTH: Wine is the Gentlest Choice

WEBMD FACT: Red wine contains tannins, compounds that are known to trigger headaches in some people. Malt liquors, like whisky, also tend to produce more severe hangovers. If you’re worried about how you’ll feel in the morning, the gentlest choices are beer and clear liquors, such as vodka and gin.

Sam's take: You think wine is bad? Try champagne. Senior year of college, we used to have Champagne Tuesdays, where we'd each drink a bottle or two of champagne on a Tuesday night (duh). This little tradition only lasted a couple weeks, because Champagne Tuesdays always gave way to Migraine Wednesdays. My temples still hurt thinking about it.

If you have your own takes on these hangover issues, or your own personal hangover remedies, now if the time to share them.

Right ... NOW!

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:54 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Spicy chicken sandwich, fries, and a coke from Wendy's

There is no cure for a hangover. Drink water and go back to bed

I definitely agree with you on the awfulness of Champagne (or sparkling wine, since I've rarely, if ever, had actual Champagne) hangovers. A glass or two with a toast is great, a bottle...not so much.

I also take issue with WedMD's assertion that gin is "gentle". Vodka yes, gin, no way in hell. If i'm getting drunk on gin, I get the headaches even before the night is over.

My remedy: sleeping for a good 10-12 hours. Works everytime

A few years ago they had this stuff called Alka-Seltzer morning relief. I buy a half-dozen boxes at a time because it worked so well. I was crushed when they stopped selling it. But it just came out again rebranded as Alka-Seltzer Wake-Up Call.

It's basically just ibuprofen and caffeine, but I think it tastes kind of good so it makes that first glass of water in the morning go down easily.

Leftover cold pizza still sitting out on the counter seems to work pretty well too.

Take multi-vitamins before going to bed with some water. No idea if it really works, but coincidentally when I expect to be hungover and remember to take them, I'm hangover free.

No better cure than sleep, except maybe vomiting to clean out your system

I agree with NR on the Alka Seltzer Morning Relief...that stuff was gold.

One pre-emptive technique that seemed to help was to take a vitamin B-12 before drinking. I almost never had a headache or nausea if I followed this step.

And as for drinking gin to avoid hangovers...don't make me laugh. My stomach was converted to an acidic cauldron of day-long misery and pain back in my gin-drinkin' days.

After too many bad mornings, I implemented the hangover prevention method (back in the drinky days).
It consisted of ramen noodles (or a slice of pizza in a pinch), and Gatorade. Also, lots of Advil. I was never hung over again.

How about drinking on a more regular basis, so being hungover just feels normal?

Ok, that's bad. But really, I'm for the chugging water before sleep, a beer in the morning and a quick cat nap usually does the trick if it's Sat or Sun.

For work-week hangovers, there is no cure.

2 Excerdin and a glass of water before going to bed.

Gatorade in the morning.

One of the more unusual methods I found that kills a bad hangover is the combination of Coca-Cola and Ricola Natural Herb Cough Drops... gotta use the original flavor drops though. Odd, but it seems to work. Haha.

a gallon fountain coke, but only from McDonalds. There is something in there that is hangover magic.


My own personal hangover prevention is this: before going to bed drink a large glass of water and take four extra strength ibuprofen. Don't take acetaminophen. Keep a glass of water by the bed and rehydrate if you wake up during the night. When you get up, repeat the process and then eat breakfast. I like eggs, sausage or pork roll, and an English muffin or toast. Keep your caffeine consumption down as it will only rob your body of hydration. Have some juice. Relax. You can also check out some of the stranger cures we've found at

Bartenders have told me, if you drink plenty of water while you are boozing it up, glass per glass, you should not have a hangover. I always take aspirin before bed (if I can think clearly enough to remember) and drink plenty of water when I get up. A good breakfast with carbs and some grease helps, too.

I don't know how to prevent a hangover but I do know that water doesn't hurt on its way back up. Everything else does.

Gatorade for a mild to moderate hangover, but for anything where you're totally out of commission, I'm with Evan in recommending Pedialyte. I can't tell you the exact biophysics involved, but it works like Gatorade except in a condensed way, and w/o all the rest of the crap in Gatorade that does you no good. I mean, it's designed for kids, so it's all killer and no filler.

Also the BK Double Stacker meal does wonders too.

Last year I discovered that Kim Chi works...really! I'm talking the spicy cabbage variety. I tried it at least three different times and it seemed to do the trick.

That acetaminophen warning is no joke --- the liver can't handle that combination of booze and painkiller, my doctor friends tell me.

Here is the best advice I received on hangovers.

Essentially, hangovers have to do with your water percentage and the poisons in your body. Alcohol is a poison, and even though you slam it down, your body is not amused. It recognizes it as a poison. So, it tries to get rid of it like every bad thing in your body: elimination (poop it out, pee it out, throw it up, or sweat it out). Urination is the easiest method (until you get TOO drunk), so that's why you go to the bathroom "more" when you drink. Unfortunately, the elimination is a pretty sad process, and elimination of poison requires an extra step (the liver), so your body in its rush to get rid of the liquid poison is actually getting rid of the WATER part first.

Hangovers are then, essentially, the imbalance of water level over the presence of alcohol (poison) requiring another process (thus burning more fluids to remove). How do you combat this?

- alternate water and alcohol - doing this will not only get you LESS drunk, but it greatly reduces your chances of a hangover.

- drink water before bed, but not necessarily RIGHT before. So, about an hour before you might pass out, start drinking some water. Refrain from chugging. It helps to get the water levels to an "ok" level.

- aspirin/ibuprofen - the only reason it SEEMS like it helps is because of the blood-thinning properties of these chemicals, so you are fooling your body into thinking there's more fluid than there actually is in your system. This can work, but it can also be dangerous.

- moderated drinking after a hangover. If you do suffer a hangover, then do not do not do not chug water as soon as you get up. You will puke. And no, that's not cleansing, no matter how "good" you feel right after you've puked.. (That's not you feelin' better, that's a "head rush") Try to moderate water in the midst of a hangover, to help get your body liquid levels back to homeostasis.

And no, I'm not a doctor. I am, however, a fratboy alum, and had a few benders in my day.

not to be a wet blanket, but maybe moderation is the best cure for a hangover.
"son, if you don't touch the stove, you won't get burnt!"

(of course, THAT fell on deaf ears too, and i have the scar to prove it...)

Cheese pizza with extra garlic and Pepsi Cola.

New York style cheese pizza with extra garlic and Pepsi Cola.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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