The Ultimate Guide To Hangovers: Causes, Cures & Myths

A hangover is the one or more unpleasant physical effects following heavy consumption of alcohol such as feelings of extreme thirst, lethargy , nausea, sensitivity to sunlight and noise, and headache.

Hangover Origins

The origin of the word “hangover” is unclear. The word was first used in 1894 to mean of something left over or an after-effect.  It was first used in the sense of the after-effect of alcohol sometime around 1904.

But some suggest that it describes the position of the sufferer the morning after a night of alcoholic excess, their head “hanging over” the toilet bowl.

hangover origin

When Bertie caught his valet Meadowes stealing his silk socks, he sacked him and sent for another valet from the agency.

Jeeves, arriving in Jeeves Takes Charge, by P. G. Woodehouse, finds Bertie hungover, mixes him a hangover cure of his own invention and is hired almost immediately.

Jeeves’ “cure”

  • One yolk of an egg (unbroken) in a tumbler
  • Two spooonfuls of Worcestershire sauce
  • Two dashes of Tabasco
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of pepper
  • One teaspoonful of malt vinegar

Jeeves explained:

It is a little preparation of my own invention.  It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its colour.  The raw egg makes it nutritious.  The red pepper gives it its bite.

Jeeves’ concoction is similar in contents of the “Prairie Oyster”, a drink devised by the late Harry MacElhone, who ran Harry’s Bar in Paris in the Twenties and Thirties, when regulars included Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Harry’s version: “In a small tumbler, drop, without breaking, one yolk of egg, two spoonfuls of Worcestershire sauce, two dashes of Tabasco, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, one teaspoonful of malt vinegar.”

Or this updated version:

Prairie Oyster

  • A few drops of olive oil
  • One egg yolk large
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Large dash of Tabasco
  • One teaspoon vinegar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Rinse a cocktail glass with olive oil and without breaking it, slide in the egg yolk. Sprinkle on the seasoning and serve. This is best taken in one go — for obvious reasons.

Bad News About Hangovers From The British

More “cures” below, but first some bad news! British research has found that hangover cures don’t work!!

No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover.

concludes a team led by Max Pittler, a research fellow in Complementary Medicine at Peninsula Medical

A second study may provide some help with moderation. It found that people tend to consume a smaller amount of liquor from tall, skinny glasses than from short, squat ones — even when the two receptacles are designed to hold the same amount of liquid.

Both reports appeared in the British Medical Journal.

First Hangover Study

In the first study, Pittler’s team gathered data from eight trials that looked at medical treatment for preventing or treating hangovers.

The trials tested eight different agents: propranolol (an antihypertensive drug), tropisetron (a drug for nausea and vertigo), tolfenamic acid (a painkiller), fructose or glucose sugars, and the dietary supplements borage, artichoke, prickly pear.

Most of these trials found no beneficial effects for these agents on hangover, although borage, a yeast-based preparation, and tolfenamic acid did show some benefit.

“The supply of folklore remedies for hangover is virtually limitless,” said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. “The best way to contend with hangover is not to get one, by practicing abstinence or moderation.”

However, many rational approaches to avoiding or reversing hangover have simply not been formally tested, Katz said.

There is some evidence that dehydration is part of the hangover syndrome, so drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, particularly water, before, during and after a holiday indulgence may help.

In addition, spacing out alcohol consumption will allow your body’s enzymes a better chance to keep up, and likely reduce toxic side effects. A simple strategy to accomplish both is to alternate alcoholic beverages with something like seltzer.

– David L. Katz

A Second Study On Preventing & Treating Hangovers

The second study in the same journal finds the shape of the glass helps determine the size of the drink.

A research team led by Brian Wansink, chairman of marketing and applied economics at Cornell University, and his colleagues found that people pour 20 percent to 30 percent more alcohol into short, wide glasses than they do into tall, narrow ones of the same volume.

However, they believe that tall glasses hold more, Wansink said. Even professional bartenders pour more into short, wide glasses than into highball glasses, they found.

If a person wants to limit how much they consume, it’s better if you pour into a tall, skinny glass. If as a host you want to limit what people drink, you better use tall, skinny glasses. You will be less likely to pour too much.

– Brian Wansink

Tall Glasses To Prevent Hangovers?

Well, here’s to your health as I raise my tall narrow glass of seltzer!

But if the research is wrong and they do provide relief, here are some classics.

The Causes Of Hangovers

First, some basic science about hangovers.

There are several sources for the symptoms of hangovers.

Ethanol has a dehydrating effect (diuretic), which causes headaches, dry mouth, and lethargy.  Dehydration causes the brain to slightly shrink away from the skull, and alcohol’s impact on the stomach lining can account for nausea.

Another factor contributing to a hangover is what results from the breakdown of ethanol via two chemical reactions, aided by enzymes produced by the liver.

Ethanol is converted toacetaldehyde by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, and then from acetaldehyde to acetate by the enzymeacetaldehyde dehydrogenase.Acetaldehyde and acetate are both mildly toxic, contributing to the hangover.

These two reactions also impair the ability of the liver to supply glucose to tissues, especially the brain.  Because glucose is the primary energy source of the brain, this lack of glucose contributes to hangover symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, mood disturbances, and decreased attention and concentration.

In addition, it is thought that the presence of congeners, by-products of the alcoholic fermentation exaggerates many of the symptoms.

Congeners are complex molecules containing methanol and acetone. The main problem is thought to be methanol, since the body metabolizes methanol to create formaldehyde and formic acid, which are linked directly to the hangover symptoms of headache, nausea and fatigue.  this may accounts for the less hanger effects when distilled alcohol, like vodka, is consumed.

Finally there are various nervous effects. The removal of the depressive effects of alcohol in the brain probably account for the light and noise sensitivity.

drinking hangover cures

Hangover Cures From Around The World

Hangover cures seem to range from the obscure to the outrageous, and seem to be a world wide problem.


When in Finland try the Finn’s favorite way of dealing with the after effects? First take a sauna to rid the body of its toxins, then a roll in the snow to shake off residual tiredness.


Pliny, the sage of Ancient Rome suggested “two eels suffocated in wine” along with cabbage and a necklace of parsley to cure the hangover.

Puerto Rico

In Puerto Rico, they rub the juice of citrus fruits into their armpits.


Indians eat mulligatawny soup, which brings on the sweats and helps to expurgate the toxins present in strong spirits.


The more relaxing Moroccan approach calls for inhaling the smoke of burning fossils to vanquish the demons and restore a state of grace.

Others even go as far as extolling the benefits of drinking a glass of one’s own urine first thing the morning after.


The Japanese take cattle liver and vitamins B15, B2 and E.


Russians just go on drinking.

United Kingdom

British chef, Keith Floyd, who has vast experience with hangovers, has written a book on hangover cures, and one of his recommendations is Keith Floyd’s “Corpse Reviver”. This one apparently owes it origin to London’s famous Savoy Hotel.

Here’s the Corpse Reviver Recipe
  • 1 shot brandy
  • 1 shot Fernet-Branca (a disgusting Italian concoction of more than 40 different herbs whipped together in a bitter alcoholic ferment)
  • 1 shot white crème de menthe or calvados

Directions: Shake the ingredients over ice and strain into a frosted martini glass. And, if you think your corpse will be cheered up by this, garnish with a slice of orange.

Or, just use the Fernet-Branca.

The original Italian bitters, established in Milano back in 1845 by the brothers Branca, a descendant of whom, Willem Branca, is a talented South African sculptor. This spirit apéritif is based on an infusion of “selected blossoms, rare aromatic herbs and other natural ingredients”. It is recommended to be drunk straight, on the rocks, or with a dash of mineral water, or poured into a double espresso.

Hair of the Dog

The phrase referred originally to the belief that placing the hair of a mad dog on a bite inflicted by that dog would heal the bite.

The first recorded use of the phrase in the hangover cure sense dates from 1546, in John Heywood’s Proverbs:

I pray the leat me and my felow haue A heare of the dog that bote us last night.

The notion that a little bit of what pains one helps to heal the pain was carried over to overindulgence in alcohol, so that “the hair of the dog” now refers to the practice of drinking an alcoholic beverage to recover from a hangover.

Makes sense!  The next day after overindulging, you’re suffering from dehydration, low blood sugar and maybe even lower self-esteem. What you really need is a drink, with a good long, sweet mixer! It’s bound to perk you up.

Angostura Bitters & Ginger Ale

Carbonation and the bitters soothe the stomach, plus the bitters contain traces of alcohol, so you’re getting a little bit of the “hair of the dog.”


A kind of German “hair of the hund”. This infusion of herbs from 43 countries comes pre-blended with a notable dash of alcohol.

Bloody Mary

  • 2 shots vodka (optional)
  • 1 can chilled tomato juice
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
bloody mary

Combine all ingredients, mix well and serve in a tall, ice-filled glass. Garnish with a celery stick.

Some Serious Advice On How To Counter The Effects Of Excessive Alcohol Intake

The effects of drinking can vary due to many factors.

If you’re dehydrated before you start drinking, or have an empty stomach, your health, medications, etc. So one time you can experience a bad hangover and another time not feel bad the next day at all!

The only certain way to avoid the issue is, of course, to abstain or drink with moderation as mentioned above, but if you ignore that, here are some tips.

Always Eat Before Any Serious Drinking

Try to have some nibbles during the course of the party. Food lines the stomach and slows the absorption of alcohol.  Your body recognizes the poison in alcohol and put it on a fast track for removal. 

In an empty stomach, alcohol is quickly absorbed through the lining of the stomach and the intestines and into the blood, where it is whisked throughout the body and to the brain.

Pace Yourself

It puts the damage off for a while and makes the fun last longer. A host of enzymes called alcohol dehydrogenase, specifically engineered to break down alcohol, works to help metabolize the alcohol into components that can be either used or expelled from the body.

While alcohol dehydrogenase generally can metabolize about one alcoholic drink an hour (that’s one 12-ounce can of beer, an ounce and a half of hard liquor or 5 ounces of wine), it comes in limited supplies. Supplies differ from person to person as well.

Drink Lots of Water

Try to drink lots of water between alcoholic drinks, especially to avoid the dehydration that will come back to haunt you.

Drink Clear Liquors

Clear liquors, like gin or vodka, and white wine may be less likely to lead to hangovers. Red wine and brown hard spirits, have more congeners (see above) that can worsen hangovers for some people.

Avoid Nicotine

Nicotine can often worsen hangovers, as smokers tend to smoke much more than usual while under the influence of alcohol.

Drink Cola / Soda

Drink Cola drinks, (known as “Black Aspirin” in Australia, and “The Red Ambulance” in Ireland) might help since the caffeine, bubbles and sugar can be easier to hold down than pure water, and the low pH helps the enzymes in the stomach and the sucrose partially compensates the inhibitation of the gluconeogenesis. But caffeine can worsen effects of dehydration.

After Drinking: How To Prevent A Hangover

Drink lots of water before you go to bed to help flush out your system, and drink water when you wake up.

Drink a sports drink to re-hydrate and replenish lost nutrients in the body.

Drink orange juice for the vitamin C.

Coffee or other caffeinated beverages will increase the effectiveness of analgesics, and therefore may reduce headache severity when used with aspirin or similar medicines. But caffeine is also a diuretic, and will promote dehydration, possibly worsening other hangover symptoms.  Plus read the warning about aspirin below.

Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) before bed.  This can reduce hangover effects dramatically, however long term (longer than two weeks) use of ibuprofen increases the risk of stomach ulcers when combined with alcohol. Aspirin may increase the risk of a hangover!  Aspirin enhances alcohol’s effects and increases it’s absorption in the stomach.

Take a vitamin B1 supplement before going to bed.

Have some chicken or vegetable soup which provides salt, proteins, and electrolytes which help reduce hangover symptoms.

And no matter how brave you feel never, ever drive drunk.

drunk driving