Hangovers can involve a slew of unbearable symptoms, from a throbbing headache to nausea and indigestion, dizziness, the shakes and sweats, fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and general malaise. It's no wonder people go to great lengths to avoid them.
Unfortunately, your best efforts probably aren't working. To save you from yourself the next time you rage, here are the remedies that don't work, according to John Brick, PhD, an alcohol researcher and the author of the Doctor's Hangover Handbook:
1. Chugging Water
Alcohol inhibits a hormone that regulates water balance, leading you to pee more while simultaneously sucking water out of your cells. This can trigger headache, dizziness, dry mouth, and fatigue.
Drinking all the water won't exactly save you because dehydration isn't actually the main cause of hangovers. The real culprit is more complicated. It involves a combination of congeners, the chemicals used to color and enhance the taste in many types of booze; acetaldehyde, the toxic byproduct your body produces when it metabolizes alcohol; prostaglandins, the inflammatory chemicals released within the body when you drink; and the fact that alcohol messes up your sleep cycle in a way that throws your whole system off, according to Brick.
So while sipping water between cocktails can deter you from drinking more and stronger stuff, and staying hydrated can lessen the severity of your symptoms, water can't and won't inoculate you from the effects of that last tequila shot.
2. Sticking to Beer
While it's true that beer contains less alcohol per serving than liquor and wine, and hangover severity does partially depend on how much alcohol you drink, beer is still full of those hangover-triggering congeners—particularly dark beers, which can contain even more of these chemicals than liquor and wine.
As a rule, you're usually safer with lighter-colored beers, wines, and liquors, which tend to be free or low in color stabilizers and contain fewer congeners than darker colored drinks, according to Brick.
3. Splurging on Top-Shelf Liquor
Sure, lower-quality wine and liquor may contain more impurities than pricier alcohol, and those ingredients can contribute to hangovers. But expensive booze is still alcoholic, and remember: "Alcohol itself, along with many components that are added to or a result of the manufacturing process, is toxic," Brick says. Unless the high cost deters you from refilling your glass, the classy stuff can still mess with your body pretty badly.
4. Drinking Liquor Before Beer
"The more you drink, the more likely you will experience a hangover or become sick while drinking," Brick says, adding that the way you combine drinks—beer before liquor or liquor before beer—has nothing to do with your likelihood of experiencing hangover symptoms or getting sick from alcohol poisoning.
5. Drunk-Eating Carbs
This mythical remedy is a solid excuse to eat exactly what you're craving when you're buzzed (P-I-Z-Z-A!), but the truth is that anything you eat before, during, and after drinking will reduce the rate at which alcohol hits the bloodstream—a good thing since the higher your blood alcohol level spikes, the worse your hangover is likely to be. However, the type of food won't slow speed of absorption all that much, nor will it reduce your hangover severity, according to Brick.
That said, choosing the wrong snacks could worsen hangover symptoms involving your stomach, particularly if you go for something especially acidic, spicy, or salty, which can mess trigger heartburn and indigestion, or further dehydrate you.
Another thing to keep in mind: Eating massive portions right before bed can mess with your sleep, so that's never a good idea. To satisfy your munchies without doing extra damage to your body, plan ahead for hunger and stick with these healthy drunk foods.
6. Avoiding Sweet Cocktails
This won't help since it's not the sugar, but the fact that sugary drinks taste so damn good that you end up drinking too much of them, that contributes to your hangover, according to Brick.
To that end, some research actually suggests that sugary mixers slow down the rate of alcohol absorption. You don't get as drunk as quickly, which means this could help you suffer less the next morning. That said, if your sugary cocktail of choice happens to contain a combination of liquors like rum and whiskey, the recipe itself could end up triggering some awful symptoms. That's because, according to Brick, some mixed drinks are essentially a buffet of impurities, which statistical raise your risk of experiencing a reaction or allergy to one of them.
7. Throwing Up
While vomiting does remove the booze in your stomach from your system, which means your body's off the hook for metabolizing everything you drank, throwing up is often a sign that you're already suffering from alcohol's toxic effects. So if your nausea leads you to vomit, it's probably too late to be spared a very shitty morning.
And if you've heard that making yourself throw up can work wonders, don't: Vomiting can dehydrate you, big time, so it's counterproductive, not to mention unhealthy and dangerous to force it.
8. Drinking Coffee
While regular coffee drinkers who fill their mugs the morning after drinking can stave off symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, coffee may ultimately worsen a throbbing headache, since caffeine reduces swollen blood vessels that play a role in headaches while the alcohol you drank simultaneously raises your blood pressure. That said, a little bit of coffee can provide some reprieve, so instead of springing for a venti, try halving your normal coffee serving to improve your condition.
9. Eating a Greasy Breakfast
While nothing tastes quiet as good as home fries and a cheesy breakfast sandwich the morning after going hard, a heavy breakfast can actually trigger indigestion that makes you feel even worse, particularly if you aren't used to eating this kind of food. Because alcohol cuts right through grease, that side of bacon won't exactly sop up alcohol.
Although fruit is the last thing you probably crave after a wild night out, it could help you feel better faster by replenishing blood sugar levels that dip when you drink alcohol, according to Brick. If you're really craving carbs, honey on toast can also be helpful since it's easy to digest.
10. Hair of the Dog
While a morning buzz sure sounds like it would beat a splitting headache and the spins, drinking when you're hungover only delays your hangover symptoms, which will, without a doubt, set in when you ultimately stop drinking. Besides, it's a misconception that hangovers result from withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms tend to worsen over time and only hit people with alcohol dependency, while hangover symptoms tend to resolve themselves with time, fluids, and a solid night's sleep.
11. Popping an OTC Painkiller Before Bed
Because most over-the-counter painkillers take 30 minutes to kick in, with maximum benefits about one to two hours later, chances are, the effects will wear off before you actually begin to feel hungover, and certainly before you wake up.
Another thing: Alcohol increases the secretion of gastric acids, which can seriously irritate your stomach. But some OTC painkillers painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen can also irritate your stomach lining, which means popping preemptive painkillers could actually do more harm than good.
It's much better to wait for morning to assess your symptoms. If you've got a splitting headache, only then should you reach for a pharmaceutical fix. Brick recommends Alka-Seltzer, which is made up of aspirin to alleviate pain but also sodium bicarbonate to treat an upset stomach. And whatever you do, avoid pills containing acetaminophen, which can overtax the liver since they, like alcohol, are processed by the liver. (It's why regular drinkers who take acetaminophen can suffer from permanent and potentially deadly liver damage.)
There are some things you can do while you're buzzed at bedtime to make tomorrow suck a little less. Drink Gatorade or coconut water to replenish your electrolytes, and pop an antacid to stave off stomach issues that can stem from having extra gastric acid.
12. Taking Hangover Pills
These would be your saving grace—if only they worked. However, a 2005 review published in the British Medical Journal found that most don't deliver any benefits. Don't waste your money unless the product contains tolfenamic acid, an NSAID used outside the U.S. to treat migraines, which seems, in preliminary research, to have some merit in preventing and repairing tissue damage, and alleviating pain, according to Brick.
13. Keeping Your Tolerance Up
If your hangovers seem to be getting worse as you age, it's not because you go out less frequently than you used to. More likely, it's because you're getting older and your body loses muscle mass as you age. With less muscle mass, your blood alcohol level goes up faster in response to smaller amounts of booze, and you may experience worse hangover symptoms because of it.
14. Staying in Bed
While it's smart to rest up after raging—particularly if you slept terribly because of it—moving a bit can actually help. Exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller, and increases your circulation, which helps oxygen get to your cells and improves your mental outlook, according to Brick.
15. Having Sex
While sex, like exercise, releases endorphins, improves circulation, and can distract you from perseverating on your current state of suffering, sex will not alleviate your headache or any other symptoms entirely.
The takeaway? There's no magic way to prevent or cure a hangover besides drinking less. Sure, it's the biggest buzzkill ever, but it's the only thing that works every single time.