We've all been there. Maybe it was decades ago on the floor of a college dorm room or just last night alone in your apartment, but chances are if you’ve ever overindulged in alcohol you're familiar with the feeling of being hungover. It’s an experience so well-known and ubiquitous in pop culture that there are two whole movies built around the idea. (The Hangover and disappointing sequel.)
But how does one actually cure a hangover — and can we take any cues from our favorite television characters? Below, what you need to know about the best ways to relieve a hangover according to science.
Let's start with one of the hottest shows of the early aughts:The O.C. I want to say that the Seth Cohen, my favorite Chrismukkah-celebrating, Deathcab-loving comic book nerd can do no wrong, but the truth is sometimes even Seth can go a little heavy-handed on the drinking. Lucky he had Ryan nearby to listen to his woes and give him aspirin even if Ryan can’t heal the troubles in Seth’s love life.
But simply taking an aspirin is not a cure-all for that hangover-induced pounding in your head. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic note: “A standard dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever may ease your headache. But aspirin can irritate your stomach. And if you regularly drink alcohol to excess, acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause severe liver damage even in doses previously thought to be safe.”
If you think you’ve made bad decisions while intoxicated, you can take some solace in knowing you probably didn’t go quite as far as two of our television favorites: Ross and Rachel. Remember when, after a night of heavy drinking they got married in Vegas? Despite their impaired judgment the night before, Ross and Rachel make one smart decision the morning after: they go for breakfast.
Food, in particular carbohydrates, can play an important role in helping ease a hangover. “Drinking may lower blood sugar levels, so theoretically, some of the fatigue and headaches of a hangover may be from the brain working without enough of its main fuel. Moreover, many people forget to eat when they drink, further lowering their blood sugar,” note doctors at Harvard Medical School. So yes, eating food like toast and juice can help.
Plus, if you are going to take pain medication it’s important to also eat something to help ease irritation on your stomach. In other words, Ross: we see those rolls in front of you and we really hope you get some before Joey eats them all.
Caffeine narrows blood vessels and increases blood pressure, both of which may make your hangover worse, John Brick, Ph.D., an alcohol research scientist and author of The Doctor's Hangover Handbook told Health. "If you drink coffee regularly, you might try a very small amount in the morning. Wait 30 to 60 minutes and see how you feel." It's worth noting that coffee is also diuretic and could exacerbate the dehydration you experience after drinking.
The Hangover IV
I can’t possibly write about hangovers on television without bringing up the onetime queen of tequila shots herself Meredith Grey. Back in her early intern days, soon after finding out that her boyfriend had a wife, Dr. Grey found herself at work after having a few too many. To ease her hangover she opted for a “banana bag.” She was in a hospital so it makes sense that IV fluids were relatively easy for her to access... but can they really help?
On-demand IV fluids were a growing trend a few years ago among celebrities including Adele, Chrissy Teigen, and Jane Fonda but these IVs can be costly (somewhere in the range of $200-400) and according to Harvard Health, they may not actually be your best bet. “While oral fluids are generally recommended for hangover symptoms (among other remedies), dehydration is not the only cause of hangover symptoms," notes Dr. Robert H. Shmerling.
Bottom line: The medical benefits of direct IV fluids to treat hangovers are somewhat unproven and often you can achieve the same results by simply drinking fluids. So, unless you, like Meredith Grey, work in a hospital and somehow have easy (and free) access to IV fluids already you are probably better off skipping this method.
Now, onto the most straightforward “cure” for a hangover, as demonstrated by fellow Grey Sloan Memorial doctors Alex Karev and Jo Wilson. I won't get into the complexities of the relationship between these two (or the name of their hospital), but back in season nine, after a night of drinking, Jo (being the resourceful medical professional that she is) went in search of some water.
Drinking alcohol doesn’t directly cause dehydration, but it promotes urination because it inhibits the release of a hormone called vasopressin, which decreases the amount of urine made by the kidneys. So, drinking water is very important to counteracting the effects of alcohol.
Jo made the right choice by admitting she was hungover and going to get some water. Sadly, she found Alex’s house was lacking in paper cups. So, if you too have a cup shortage or are simply too tired to do the dishes, take a cue from Alex and drink directly out of the faucet, assuming of course you have safe drinking water.