The elusive hangover cure

Recently the news reported that the best remedy for a hangover is common soft drink.  This was, however, only a hypothesis based the in vitro finding of accelerated metabolism of ethanol and its toxic product, acetaldehyde.1 With winter holidays approaching, pharmacists are likely to encounter patients seeking relief from alcohol overindulgence.


Veisalgia - aka hangover

A hangover can mean any of a constellation of unpleasant signs and symptoms that occur when the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) falls. It usually begins 6 to 8 hours after consumption of an intoxicating amount of alcohol, peaks when the BAC reaches zero, and lasts about 24 hours.2 There is no consensus on what constitutes a hangover.2-5 In the largest survey of hangover symptoms, fatigue was the most common symptom (reported by almost 96%), followed by thirst, drowsiness, sleepiness, headache, dry mouth, nausea, weakness, reduced alertness and concentration problems (symptoms reported by at least 75%).5 They were usually  the most severe symptoms too, in addition to vomiting, apathy, and reduced appetite.


The pathophysiology of hangovers is not fully understood. During hangovers there are a number of abnormalities - dehydration, pH and electrolyte imbalance, hypoglycemia, sleep disturbances; alteration in hormones including serotonin, histamine, prostaglandins and cytokines; and inflammation such as gastric irritation.2-5 There is no clear correlation between these abnormalities and symptoms.- "no two hangovers are the same".6 The relative role of ethanol, its metabolite acetaldehyde, congeners (other alcohols and organic compounds produced during fermentation or introduced during beverage production), co-exposures such as tobacco smoke, other substances, and dancing is also unclear. Psychosocial factors, personality traits, and individual biology may play a role.   An estimated 25 - 30% of adults are resistant to developing hangovers.7


The economic burden of hangovers is significant. One estimate of the cost to the Canadian economy of alcohol-related short-term disability (days in bed or with reduced activity) is $40 million per year.8 The estimated cost of lost productivity in other countries is in the billions.9 Studies have shown impaired cognitive and psychomotor performance in the hungover state. In one study the decrease in attention performance was similar between the acute intoxication and hangover states while reaction times were worse in the hangover state, raising safety concerns.10



There is no experimental evidence of an effective treatment for hangovers, the only sure-fire prevention is abstinence. Home treatments, folk-cures, herbal and homeopathic hangover remedies abound, as do tales of their effectiveness. While rehydrating, refuelling, and resting are good things, very few specific hangover treatments have been scientifically studied (Table 1). The few published are small and methodologically flawed (a consensus document on best practices in hangover research has recently been published11). 



Safety concerns

While most remedies are likely harmless, some treatments are potentially hazardous. "Hair of the dog" (more alcohol) only delays the onset of hangover symptoms, may enhance the existing toxicity of alcohol already consumed, and increases the likelihood of continued drinking. Analgesics may provide relief from headache, but care must be taken not to overuse. Some hangover remedies available for purchase on the internet contain analgesics - patients should check labels. NSAIDs may worsen gastric irritation, and the rare patient may be at increased risk of liver toxicity from acetaminophen due to depleted glutathione stores and induction of hepatic metabolism. Caffeine may create a false sense of safety, but data shows that judgement and psychomotor performance remain impaired during acute intoxication, and there is no evidence of improved performance during hangovers.



There is no evidence of an effective hangover remedy. Pharmacists can help patients avoid worthless and potentially dangerous treatments. However, the best prevention is avoiding over-indulgence in the first place, and the most effective cure is likely the tincture of time.



  1. Li S, et al. Effects of herbal infusions, tea and carbonated beverages on alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase activity. Food Funct. 2013 (Epub ahead of print). DOI: 10.1039/c3fo60282f.
  2. Prat G, et al. Alcohol hangover: a critical review of explanatory factors. Hum Psychopharmacol Clin Exp. 2009; 24: 259-67.
  3. Swift R, Davidson D. Alcohol hangover: mechanisms and mediators. Alcohol Health Res World. 1998; 22:54-60.
  4. Weise JG  et al. The alcohol hangover. Ann Intern Med. 2000; 132: 897-902.
  5. Penning R, et al. Alcohol hangover symptoms and their contribution to the overall hangover severity. Alcohol Alcohol. 2012; 47: 248-252.
  6. Zuckerman C. How to banish that New Year's Eve hangover. National Geographic news, December 28, 2012. Available from URL: Accessed 15/11/2013.
  7. Howland J, et al. The incidence and severity of hangover the morning after moderate alcohol intoxication. Addiction. 2008; 103: 758-65.
  8. Thomas G.  Analysis of Beverage Alcohol Sales in Canada Alcohol Price Policy Series, Report 2 of 3. November 2012. Available from URL: Accessed 15/11/2013.
  9. Pittler MH, et al. Interventions for preventing or treating alcohol hangover: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2005; 331: 1515-8.
  10. McKinney A, et al. Direct comparison of the cognitive effects of acute alcohol with the morning after a normal night's drinking. Hum Psychopharmacol. 2012;27:295-304.
  11. Verster JC, et al. The alcohol hangover research group consensus statement on best practice in alcohol hangover research. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2010; 3: 116-26.
  12. Pavlic M, et al. Another 'soberade' on the market: does Outox keep its promise? Wien Klin Wochenschr. 2007;119(3-4):104-11..
  13. Pittler MH, et al. Effectiveness of artichoke extract in preventing alcohol-induced hangovers: a randomized controlled trial. CMAJ. 2003; 169: 1269-73.
  14. Wiese J, et al. Effect of Opuntia ficus indica on symptoms of the alcohol hangover. Arch Intern Med. 2004; 164:1334-40.
  15. Verster JC, Berthelmy O. Consumer satisfaction and efficacy of the hangover cure After-Effect.  Adv Prevent  Med.  Volume 2012, Article ID 617942, 7 pages. doi:10.1155/2012/617942.
  16. Shalini , et al. evaluation of the efficacy and safety of "partysmart" in the prevention of alcohol-induced hangover: a prospective, randomized, double blind, comparative, phase III clinical trial. Ind J Clin Pract. 2005; 15(11): 23-35.
  17. Shalini, et al. Evaluation of efficacy and safety of PartySmart in the prevention of alcohol-induced hangover: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, comparative, phase III clinical trial. Ind J Clin Pract. 2004; 15(7): 25-40.
  18. Shalini, et al. Evaluation of the efficacy and safety of PartySmart in the prevention of alcohol induced hangover: A prospective, randomized, double blind, comparative, crossover, phase III clinical trial. Med Update. 2005; 12(1): 46-55.
  19. Rangamani, et al. evaluation of the efficacy and safety of partysmart in the prevention of alcohol-induced hangover: a prospective, randomized, double blind, comparative, phase III clinical trial. Med Update. 2005; 12(9): 50-64.
  20. Chauhan BL, Kulkarni RD. Alcohol hangover and Liv.52. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1991;40(2):187-8.
  21. Takahashi M, et al. Clinical effectiveness of KSS formula, a traditional folk remedy for alcohol hangover symptoms. J Nat Med. 2010;64:487-91.
  22. McGregor NR. Pueraria lobata (Kudzu root) hangover remedies and acetaldehyde-associated neoplasm risk. Alcohol. 2007;41: 469-78.
  23. Khan MA, et al. Alcohol-induced hangover. A double-blind comparison of pyritinol and placebo in preventing hangover symptoms. Q J Stud Alcohol. 1973;34:1195-201.
  24. McAdden M, McAdden L. United States Patent Application 20040082667. Hangover treatment. April 2004. Available from URL: Accessed 15/11/2013.
  25. Rohsenow DJ, et al. Effects of caffeinated vs. non-caffeinated alcoholic beverage on next-day hangover incidence and severity, perceived sleep quality, and alertness. Addict Behav. 2013. Epub ahead of print.
  26. Bogin RM, et al. Propranolol for the treatment of the alcoholic hangover. Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 1987;13(1-2):175-80.
  27. Kaivola S, et al. Hangover headache and prostaglandins: prophylactic treatment with tolfenamic acid. Cephalalgia. 1983; 3: 31-6.
  28. Muhonen T, et al. Tropsietron and hangover. Addict Biol. 1997; 2: 461-2.

by Raymond Li, BSc(Pharm), MSc

©2013 B.C. Drug and Poison Information Centre

A version of this document was published in BCPhA's The Tablet. 2014; 22(6): 14-15.