Jul 19, 2022

The Pharmacist's Guide to 6 Over-the-Counter Hangover Remedies

No matter the cause of celebration, many adults have experienced the not-so-pleasant side effect of over-indulging in one too many alcoholic beverages aka a hangover

Whether it's dehydration, nausea, vomiting, a splitting headache, fatigue, or all of the above, the symptoms of a hangover can leave you sick in bed for a day or two. From lowering blood sugar levels, increasing urine output, expanding blood vessels, and triggering an inflammatory response, the effects of alcohol can wreak havoc on the body. 

So, what's the best way to cure a hangover? Do these over-the-counter (OTC) hangover remedies work? We asked our pharmacists about some top at-home treatments and their effectiveness in preventing or reducing a hangover. 

Can pain relievers help prevent or cure a hangover?

Do you have that friend who swears by two Advil before a night of drinking to prevent a hangover? While OTC nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are commonly taken to reduce pain, fevers, and inflammation, caution should be used when battling hangover symptoms. 

Tylenol should be avoided while drinking or during a hangover. When the medication's main ingredient, acetaminophen, mixes with alcohol, it can cause severe harm to your liver as well as increase the risk of kidney disease. 

Aspirin (Advil) and ibuprofen (Motrin) can help reduce headaches and muscle pain from too much drinking the night before. However, both should be avoided if you are also experiencing nausea or stomach pain as they can increase acid and irritate your stomach lining even more. 

As for preventing waking up with a pounding headache - two ibuprofen pills before going to sleep and right when you wake up may help reduce the severity of your headache. (Always consult your healthcare provider first if you suffer from gastrointestinal issues like a stomach ulcer, ulcerative colitis, or acid reflux.)

Will drinking more alcohol fix hangover symptoms?

Often referred to asHair of the Dog, this theory is that the cure to a hangover is drinking more of what made you feel bad to start with; alcohol. 

Unfortunately, this is a myth. 

Experts believe hangover symptoms peak when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the body returns to around zero. Consuming more alcohol after a night of heavy drinking would only delay, not prevent, a hangover from happening. 

Do IV fluids reduce dehydration and other hangover symptoms?

If you or a loved one have ever been to the ER, chances are the doctor used IV saline to replenish lost fluids or administer certain medications. 

Over the last several years, IVs have become increasingly popular outside hospitals for hangovers. Whether it's an IV lounge or a mobile concierge service that comes to you, IV drip therapy combines vitamins, minerals, saline, nausea medication, and other nutrients straight into your veins. 

The advertised benefits are endless, with curing hangovers at the top of the list. However, there is currently very little research or evidence to support these claims. 

Many doctors will agree that while these treatments can help with hydration, IV hydration drips can be costly, so save yourself money and drink fluids to rehydrate. 

If you decide on getting IV therapy, be sure it's done by a trained professional using sterile needles in a safe and clean environment. 

How about Pedialyte and/or Gatorade?

Water is one of the best fluids you can give your body to rehydrate. However, if you don't like the taste of water or can't keep it down, there are other liquids to try. 

Drinks like Pedialyte and Gatorade may be a better option when recovering from a night of drinking. That's because both are filled with electrolytes, like potassium and sodium, that alcohol depletes from our bodies. They also contain carbohydrates, some sugar, and added calories that can assist in replenishing energy. Since Pedialyte is typically used for children recovering from an illness, it does contain less sugar and calories than Gatorade. 

So should you go for Pedialyte or Gatorade? It's really about personal preference. 

Will activated charcoal absorb the alcohol in your stomach?

Activated charcoal involves a specific process of heating carbon-rich materials, like wood or coconut shells to extremely high temperatures to make them highly absorbent. It turns into a black powder, which can be given orally in a pill or dissolved in water. 

Studies have shown that activated charcoal can help if given within 1-4 hours when certain toxins are ingested. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved it for emergency uses in treating poisonings and overdoses. 

There is no research to support that activated charcoal works to absorb alcohol from drinking. And with a long list of drug interactions and medical conditions, we suggest not to use unless directed by a healthcare professional. 

Can Alka-Seltzer soothe nausea from a hangover?

Alka-Seltzer's ingredients, anhydrous citric acid and sodium bicarbonate, are antacids that neutralize stomach acid to relieve heartburn and acid indigestion. So if you wake up with an upset stomach and nausea from drinking, it might help. 

However, some Alka-Seltzer products also contain aspirin, which, if you recall above, should be avoided by those with stomach issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even warned about stomach bleeding problems due to OTC antacids that contain aspirin. 

Just recently (June 2022), Alka-Seltzer launched a new product, Alka-Seltzer Hangover, which claims to quickly tackle headaches, body aches, and mental fatigue from drinking. It contains caffeine and aspirin but not any antacids. So while it may be an option for hangover pain and tiredness, it won't address other symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or nausea. 

What is the most effective cure for a hangover?

No magical remedy will erase all the symptoms of excessive drinking. The only way to get rid of a hangover is to give yourself time. Many hangovers resolve within 24 hours; some can last longer. 

The only way to truly prevent a hangover is not to drink at all. If you do, do so in moderation and try to alternate drinks with a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated. Even drinking a bottle or two of water before bed may help reduce symptoms in the morning. 

If you feel like you are hungover more often than not or can't stop drinking excessively, you might suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcohol addiction. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers many resources for coping with addiction and a national helpline you can call for advice. 

You may also want to speak with your healthcare provider about medications and other options to help you quit drinking. 

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