Is 'Hair of the Dog' a Real Hangover Cure? We Asked M.D.s About This Boozy Remedy
Sorry, folks, that Bloody Mary isn't doing what you think it is.
It’s the morning after a long night of sipping espresso martinis. You’re dehydrated, feeling shaky, and nursing a throbbing headache. Your friends suggest a boozy brunch complete with mimosas and Bloody Marys, even though you’re all feeling crummy from an epic hangover. Their reasoning: Drinking more alcohol will actually make you feel better!
Known as “hair of the dog,” this age-old, alleged hangover cure stems from the belief that continuing to drink alcohol is the best way to ease the pain of your current hangover. But the debate over whether this remedy is rooted in fact or fiction has long been argued in favor of both sides, with some experts believing it works and others advising strongly against it. To get down to the bottom of this phenomenon, we’ve asked doctors to shed some light on the old “hair of the dog”trick, and other (probably better) ways to cure hangovers safely.
What is the meaning of “hair of the dog”?
“‘Hair of the dog’ has become a popular, cultural term for drinking more alcohol to cure a hangover,” explains internal medicine doctor Mahmud Kara, M.D., of KaraMD and formerly of The Cleveland Clinic. It’s short for the “hair of the dog that bit you,” a longstanding folk remedy for treating hangovers, and claims that continuing to drink alleviates symptoms of hangovers, like headaches, fatigue, sweating and shakes. While origins of the phrase aren’t entirely clear, many believe it stems from an ancient belief that involved using dog hair to treat rabies by placing hair from the rabid dog that bit them into the bite wound (yikes). So the saying refers to curing a specific ailment with a bit of the thing that caused it in the first place—a.k.a. a mimosa to cure a hangover.
Since hangovers are so unpleasant, Dr. Kara explains that many people turn to “cures” to alleviate the symptoms. In reality, however, the exact cause of hangovers is something that has been studied for decades. “Some people consider hangovers to be the early stages of alcohol withdrawal, where acetaldehyde (produced from the breakdown of alcohol) causes symptoms,” he says, “while others believe hangovers are related to dehydration and increased urination that occurs when people drink.”
Hangover severity and symptoms vary from one person to another since everyone metabolizes alcohol a little bit differently, so despite extensive research, a precise definition of what a hangover really is continues to be studied. Until more information is available, folk remedies like “hair of the dog” are popular, self-prescribed treatments. “The cause of a hangover is unknown, and because of this there is no treatment for a hangover that is 100 percent effective,” says Kelly Johnson-Arbor, M.D., medical toxicology physician and director at National Capital Poison Center.
Does “hair of the dog” actually work?
According to Dr. Johnson-Arbor, unfortunately, the short answer is no. “Because hangovers typically occur after cessation of drinking, and not during alcohol consumption, some people believe that drinking additional alcohol can treat hangovers, but there is no evidence that this technique actually works,” she says.
Dr. Johnson-Arbor adds that consuming additional alcohol can potentially worsen a hangover, making symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue that much more severe, especially since alcohol is a diuretic and causes dehydration. In her expert opinion, the best hangover cure is simple: Drink less next time. “Overall, the most effective way to treat a hangover is to prevent it from occurring in the first place,” she says. “To prevent hangovers from happening, avoid the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol.”
Another potential downside of “hair of the dog” is that some researchers believe it could potentially lead to unhealthy drinking behaviors or, in the worst case, even alcohol use disorder. Studies show that those who have hangovers should avoid further alcohol use, since additional drinking increases any existing toxicity of alcohol consumed in the prior drinking session. There are of course short-term risks of drinking too much, like injuries, accidents, and in extreme cases, alcohol poisoning. But over time, continuously believing that a little “hair of the dog” will do the trick could encourage excessive alcohol use could lead to more serious, chronic health problems like high blood pressure, liver disease, and depression.
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What to Eat, Drink, and Do to Help a Hangover
Instead of drinking more alcohol to kick a hangover, try these expert-approved strategies to ease your morning-after misery.
Drink plenty of water.
Water is a tried-and-true remedy for hangovers. Since alcohol can cause dehydration, replenishing your body’s water stores can actually alleviate some of the nastiest hangover symptoms like headaches and fatigue. The key, however, is to drink water while you’re drinking alcohol too.
“It’s important to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated while you drink and after drinking,” Dr. Kara says. Keep in mind, however, that water can’t actually prevent a hangover, so drinking in moderation is the only way to keep hangovers at bay.
Increase your electrolyte intake.
Since alcohol is a diuretic, or something that helps your body get rid of sodium and water, Dr. Kara says this loss of electrolytes contributes to hangover symptoms like nausea, dizziness, or cramping. “Along with water, drinking beverages that are high in electrolytes is important,” he suggests. This can include drinking sports drinks like Gatorade, electrolyte-infused water, coconut water, milk, or fruit juice.
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Eat more nutrient-rich foods.
Recent research shows that eating more nutrient-rich foods can help your body metabolize, or get rid of, alcohol more efficiently. Instead of turning to a fried chicken sandwich and fries after a night of drinking, try reaching for something with more nutritional bang for your buck. “Many people think that eating a nice greasy meal after drinking is the best way to cure a hangover, however, it’s better to stick with fruits, vegetables, and unrefined carbohydrates,” Dr. Kara says. Try something like an omelet with ham and veggies, savory oatmeal with poached eggs, or a hearty grain bowl like quinoa and spicy roasted veggies or a chicken and avocado over rice. But eat what you can—some hangovers are so nasty that all you can get down is saltines and Pedialyte (and that’s OK).
Get some sleep.
Since alcohol can disrupt sleep and interfere with the natural circadian rhythm that controls your sleep cycle, getting some more sleep, from sleeping in, taking a nap, or going to bed early the night after, may get rid of some nagging hangover symptoms like fatigue or anxiety, Dr. Kara says.
Try natural remedies like chamomile, peppermint, or ginger.
If you’re stuck with a bout of unpleasant hangover symptoms like nausea or upset stomach, natural herbs like ginger, peppermint, and honey may be able to alleviate digestive discomfort, Dr. Kara says. For mood-related hangover symptoms like anxiety, he suggests trying calming herbs like chamomile or lemon balm to relax.
The “hair of the dog” hangover cure is purely anecdotal. Some people may swear by it, but in reality drinking more alcohol to relieve hangover symptoms probably isn’t the healthiest or most effective strategy. The best way to prevent a hangover is always going to be to drink less, and the best ways to cure a hangover are to hydrate, sleep, take a pain reliever or anti-inflammatory (like Advil or Tylenol), and eat some nutrient-rich food (if you can stomach them). “Overall, there are many natural ways to [help relieve] a hangover or recover after drinking alcohol,” Dr. Kara says. “However, it seems that ‘hair of the dog,’ or drinking more alcohol, may not be the most effective solution.”
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