Hair of the Dog: Is Drinking the Best Hangover Cure?

Hungover Man Drinking AlcoholWe’ve all overindulged in alcohol before and faced the inevitable hangover. Drinking with your buddies was fun and it sure went down smooth. But like after every good party, there is usually a price to pay. Except, or course, for the approximately 25% of drinkers who are naturally resistant to experiencing hangovers. How fortunate for them, but unfortunately you’re not one of them.

When you wake up with a hangover, your body is telling you to fix the mess you’ve made. The usual side effects of headache, body aches, fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, and nausea let you and everyone else who sees you know it’s going to be a rough morning. Or rough afternoon if the drinking went into all hours of the morning.

The popular, albeit not entirely accurate, remedy is hair of the dog,  or an alcoholic drink to cure the hangover. We actually tried this once in the belief the rumors were true, but discovered that the cure is just that―a rumor. It only prolonged the hangover agony for us, though some of our friends swear that it works.

What exactly is hair of the dog?

The expression “hair of the dog” first appears in an old folk poem from John Heywood  in the mid-1500s: I pray thee let me and my fellow have a hair of the dog that bit us last night — and bitten were we both to the brain alright.

“Hair of the dog” is a phrase used to suggest that alcohol itself is a cure for a hangover. In other words, drinking more alcohol will help get rid of a hangover. It seems to have gotten its start as a folk remedy that the best thing for what ails you is what ails you. Adding more alcohol is based on the notion that the hangover feelings are caused by alcohol withdrawal. While this may be partially true, the real reason for most hangover feelings is far more complex.

Even the Bloody Mary, a Roarin’ Twenties invention, was and still is touted as a great hangover remedy. The concoction has vodka in it to ail you and tomato juice to help with hydration. This drink is still sold in restaurants and bars as a great brunch beverage for that morning after.

What causes a hangover anyway?

That dry-mouth symptom is not an accident. The underlying cause of a hangover is, quite literally, dehydration. Not only does ethanol―the alcohol by-product―tax the liver into overdrive while it metabolizes, it also severely dehydrates the body by robbing it of needed fluids. All that urinating you did while drinking also removed fluids from your body, making the situation the next day even worse.

Another cause of hangover symptoms is the taxing effect on your body while it tries to metabolize alcohol.  Alcohol becomes acetaldehyde in the body, which is more carcinogenic and toxic than alcohol itself. Part of the hangover effects that your body experiences are acetaldehyde breaking down into acetic acid. Again, one way to help your body eliminate these effects quicker is drinking more water.

In fact, switching to drinking just water at the end of a night of overindulging in alcohol can actually prevent many of the hangover feeling the next morning. Instead of reaching for a nightcap, reach for a glass of water. Research has shown that drinking water after moderate drinking can severely reduce or eliminate altogether hangover symptoms the next day.

The only drawback to having several big glasses of water before heading to bed is, of course, the inevitable need to urinate in the middle of the night. We don’t know about you, but we’d be willing to eliminate or severely reduce a hangover in exchange for having to pee in the middle of the night, even if it’s multiple times.

What is the best hangover cure?

As just mentioned, the best hangover cure is water, and lots of it. Your body is desperately in need of hydration after all that alcohol robbed it of fluids the night before. Alcohol, like caffeine, is a major dehydrator.

Juices are also good. And if a pesky headache is present, take an over-the-counter pain tablet. But there really isn’t a cure for a hangover so to speak; only ways to lessen symptoms and reduce the awful side effects that you are experiencing.

While you are at it, just add more water to your everyday routine from here on out. The majority of people don’t get anywhere near the adequate amount of pure, clean water anyway. Your body, your gut, and your skin will thank you.

If you have a bit of nausea as part of your hangover, you may be inclined to skip eating anything after you get going in the morning, but that’s a mistake. Eating something small and bland, such as bread or crackers, is good because that empty stomach may need something to settle it down. Avoid anything heavy or spicy, but don’t skip eating altogether.