January 2, 2022
4 min. read

Ask a Pharmacist: Is There Medication For Hangovers?

Medly

You probably already know that there are a few choice ways to prevent a hangover from ever happening in the first place—drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep, and avoiding sugary cocktails or drinks with a high degree of congeners, like whiskey, tequila, bourbon, and brandy. (Congeners are what lend those drinks their color and flavor, but they might give you worse hangovers than clear drinks like vodka.)

But on the chance you do wake up feeling under-the-weather after imbibing, “curing” a hangover in a flash might be a tall order. That said, there are ways to tackle side effects like nausea and headaches, as our pharmacists will tell you. “There is no cure for a hangover,” says supervising pharmacist at Medly Pharmacy, Jacky Zhang. “We can only relieve the symptoms.” Read below for a few fail-safe medications that might just minimize those hangover symptoms.

hangover remedy

What is a hangover?

A hangover is a set of symptoms that occur after drinking too much alcohol. These symptoms usually begin when your blood alcohol content significantly drops or nears zero. These symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Excessive thirst and dry mouth
  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Nausea, vomiting or stomach pain
  • Poor or decreased sleep
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Dizziness or a sense of the room spinning
  • Shakiness
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Mood disturbances, such as depression, anxiety and irritability
  • Rapid heartbeat

While anyone can get a hangover, it’s true that some people are more susceptible to them than others. For example, certain people have a genetic variation that affects the way alcohol is metabolized by the body, which can lead to flushed skin, sweating, and illness after just a small amount of alcohol. You can also potentially make a hangover worse by drinking on an empty stomach, combining alcohol with other drugs, not sleeping long enough after drinking and by drinking darker drinks with those congeners we talked about earlier.

What causes a hangover?

A number of factors can contribute to a hangover. Among them are:

  • Dehydration. Alcohol causes the body to produce more urine, and going to the bathroom more than usual can lead to dehydration — often indicated by thirst, dizziness and lightheadedness.
  • Inflammation. Your immune system may react to alcohol by triggering certain agents that commonly produce physical symptoms, such as an inability to concentrate, memory problems, decreased appetite and loss of interest in usual activities.
  • Gastrointestinal irritation. Alcohol irritates the lining of your stomach, which then increases the production of stomach acid and delays stomach emptying. Any of these factors can cause abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting.
  • Low blood sugar. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to fall, and if your blood sugar dips too low, you may experience fatigue, weakness, shakiness, mood disturbances and even seizures.
  • Vasodilation. Headaches can occur when the alcohol you consume causes your blood vessels to expand.
  • Sleep deprivation. Alcohol can prevent certain stages of deep sleep and often causes awakening in the middle of the night. This may leave you groggy and tired.

hangover remedy

Anti-inflammatories

Because hangovers are caused by inflammation, aspirin and other anti-inflammatories like naproxen and ibuprofen may be effective at resolving the aches and pains associated with a hangover. However, they may also further irritate the stomach lining, so it’s advisable to try to eat something before or while taking these drugs.

Two regular-strength tablets of aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen before bed should help reduce the severity of your hangover. Note that acetaminophen is not an anti-inflammatory, so taking it unfortunately won’t help your hangover symptoms.

Nausea medication

Nausea and an upset stomach are two of the classic symptoms of a hangover. Alcohol can irritate the lining of your stomach, causing both abdominal pain and nausea. Medications like the anti-nausea Zofran, and antacids like Pepcid, Zantac, or Alka-Seltzer will all help to combat the shaky stomach of a post-party hangover sufferer.

Remember, however, that while these medications may help with nausea, they are not meant to treat hangovers specifically and won’t help with other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Prickly pear extract

A 2004 study showed a reduction in severity of hangover symptoms of up to 50% if taken two hours before drinking. Though the way it works is not fully understood, it may function as an anti-inflammatory.

Vitamin B-6

Studies show positive results for vitamin B-6—not vitamin B-12—when it comes to reducing the impact of hangover symptoms. Take 400 mg when you start drinking, 400 mg three hours later, and 400 mg when your night comes to an end in order to receive the best possible benefit.

hangover vitamin

Whether during or after a night of drinking, the above list of medications can help you both prevent and treat hangover symptoms. A bonus tip? Try not to do anything too strenuous and take it easy while your body recovers.

Resources

Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M. D. (2017, November 21). Hangover prevention. Mayo Clinic. 7 steps to cure your hangover. Harvard Health. (2021, November 16). Wiese, Jeff. Effect of opuntia ficus indica on symptoms of the alcohol hangover. Archives of internal medicine. Verster, J. C., Vermeulen, S. A., Loo, A. J. A. E. van de, Balikji, S., Kraneveld, A. D., Garssen, J., & Scholey, A. (2019, August 27). Dietary nutrient intake, alcohol metabolism, and hangover severity. Journal of clinical medicine. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from Swift, R., & Davidson, D. (1998). Alcohol hangover: Mechanisms and mediators. Alcohol health and research world. Köseoglu V;Kürekçi AE;Sarici U;Atay AA;Ozcan O. Comparison of the efficacy and side-effects of Ondansetron and metoclopramide-diphenhydramine administered to control nausea and vomiting in children treated with antineoplastic chemotherapy: A prospective randomized study. European journal of pediatrics. Abdar Esfahani, M., Ahmadi, N., Keikha, M., Adibi, P., Sharma, N., & Moayyedi, P. (2017, June 8). Antacids, sucralfate and bismuth salts for functional dyspepsia. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2017, December 16). Hangovers. Mayo Clinic.

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