When it comes to hangovers, everyone has a swear-by-it remedy, from bingeing on cheeseburgers and fries (grease supposedly lines the stomach and slows alcohol absorption) to gulping spiked orange juice or a Bloody Mary (hair of the dog). Hundreds of others are free for the taking online, so why not pick one and get moving the day after you've had a few too many?
Because "in terms of anything that's proven to, quote, cure a hangover, there isn't anything," says Michael Fingerhood, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. In 2005, researchers scoured studies as far back as the 1950s that addressed preventing or treating hangovers. They unearthed just eight that were worth a closer look, none of which could convincingly demonstrate success for their hangover tricks (such as taking a supplement of prickly-pear cactus or a yeast-vitamin pill), according to the report published in the British Medical Journal.
That doesn't mean you have to be miserable all day, though. Experts say some old standbys will at least take the edge off a hangover and end it a little faster:
Drink lots of water. It's hardly groundbreaking advice, but it should be a top priority. Alcohol makes you urinate. That can lead to dehydration, prompting the hallmark dizziness and lightheadedness of a hangover.
Eat, but don't binge. Crackers and toast can boost blood sugar that may have dipped while drinking, contributing to your fatigue and overall weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Also consider pretzels and a banana to replace the salt and potassium lost through urinating so much. No cheeseburger feast—most of us lack the stomach for it the day after.
Get your body working faster. When alcohol gets into the system, says Thomas Tallman, a staff physician in emergency medicine at Cleveland Clinic, "it's got to be metabolized. There's no way around it." The fructose in sports drinks, fruit juice, and honey may help burn the alcohol more quickly. So will exercise, if you can force yourself to get moving, says Tallman.
Retreat under the covers. You may have gotten your usual eight hours, but it was probably interrupted by a few trips to the bathroom and a lot of tossing and turning, decreasing the quality of your snooze. Think ahead and consider taking a nap before a night out, says Fingerhood.
Take a pain reliever, but sparingly. They'll likely alleviate a headache, but aspirin can upset an already irritated tummy, and acetaminophen could lead to liver damage, according to the Mayo Clinic. Don't go over the recommended dose. In fact, try half a dose and see if it works.
But how about a little foresight to avoid a hangover in the first place? Think of it as doing "damage control while you're drinking so you feel less horrific the next day," says Leslie Bonci, a registered dietician and director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Pace yourself. Start by pre-setting a limit before you head out, says Peter Nathan, a community and behavioral health professor emeritus at the University of Iowa in Iowa City who has studied alcohol consumption for 40 years. He advises telling yourself: "I'm going to have no more than two or at most three drinks during the three hours of this party. And if I do more than that, that's an error in judgment and I can't make it." Don't let peer pressure think you need to keep up with a binge drinker, says Nathan, who has most recently researched binge drinking among college students. "It's important that they not keep up," he says. The body can typically metabolize an alcoholic drink—a glass of beer, a one-shot mixed drink—each hour. Women are generally in hangover danger after three to five drinks in a night; for men, it's five or six. If you're prone to get to these thresholds, try "mocktails"—tonic and lime, water, juice—between drinks. And keep eating. Food slows down alcohol absorption and provides a little distraction.
Customize your request. Ask the bartender for a little more orange juice and a little less vodka, suggests Bonci. "Nobody's going to think you're a wuss if you do that," she says.
Choose wisely. Darker-colored alcoholic beverages—bourbon, scotch, tequila, brandy, ales—have a greater amount of chemicals called congeners, which are more likely to cause a hangover, according to the Mayo Clinic. But light or dark, excess alcohol can lead to a perfectly awful day after.