Drink a little too much last night? Before you grab a bottle of painkillers, greasy breakfast sandwich, or strong cup of coffee—listen up! When it comes to curing or preventing a hangover, none of the urban myths seem to get it completely right, says Aaron Michelfelder, MD, professor of family medicine at the Loyola University Medical Center. In fact, the truth about some of your go-to remedies is downright sobering.
Here, 8 hangover myths to stop believing now, and what you should do instead.
The hair of the dog will set you straight.
While it may seem to help at first, drinking alcohol the morning after a binge will only delay your inevitable hangover. "You're self medicating with the substance that made you feel sick in the first place," says George Koob, PhD, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "We definitely don't recommend that as a treatment for hangovers."
So why does everyone drink a Bloody Mary or a mimosa in the morning? While adding more alcohol to your system isn't a good idea, a morning drink can temporarily alleviate some of your hangover symptoms. "Alcohol has a depressant affect," says Michelfelder. "It makes you feel calmer and more relaxed." As alcohol leaves your system, though, that calm feeling turns to anxiety. Drinking the morning after can relieve some of that anxiety and calm you down again, but overall, it's only doing more damage to your liver and brain. Plus, it will make your pounding headache even worse later on. (Overdoing it? Take a look at these 6 sneaky signs you drink too much.)
Pop two painkillers before bed and you'll be fine!
Did anyone else have those friends in college who swore that two aspirin and a glass of water was some kind of magic defense against hangovers? Well, they were (kind of) right. Your body burns a lot of water to process alcohol, which means that too much beer and too little water equals major headache-inducing dehydration by the end of the night, says Koob. The aspirin or ibuprofen can be helpful, too, since alcohol inflames the liver and brain, and both ibuprofen and aspirin are anti-inflammatory. Still, there's no guarantee that this will prevent a hangover, so don't count on it as a cure. Both Koob and Michelfelder also strongly warn not to reach for Tylenol (acetaminophen) when you've been drinking. Taking it could cause potentially serious damage to your already overburdened liver.
Eat bread before you drink to soak up the alcohol.
Sorry, but bread does not act like a sponge. Still, it doesn't hurt to eat something both before and while you're drinking (yes, we did just give you permission to eat bar snacks!) Having food in your stomach, whether it's bread or not, slows the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream, says Michelfelder. "Obviously it's not going to protect you if you drink a whole bottle of gin, but it might help if you have three or four drinks," he says. And this is actually a great time for your greasy diner meal. "Fat slows the emptying of the stomach as well as stomach movement," says Michelfelder. While that's usually not something you want to happen, it actually helps if you're drinking excessively, because it blocks the absorption of alcohol longer than other types of food.
Sleep off that hangover.
We know, we know, the last thing you want to do when you have a hangover is get out of bed and walk around the block. But that's exactly what you should do. Alcohol leaves the body in two main ways, says Michelfelder: Through urine and through your breath. So if you want to sober up faster, you might want to do something active like go for a walk or jog. "Get your blood moving, get yourself breathing a little faster, and drink lots of water so you can urinate out the alcohol," says Michelfelder. (Get yourself together with Rodale’s not-crazy 12-day liver detox for total-body health!)
A greasy diner breakfast is the best hangover medicine.
Ditch the bacon for a few saltines, says Michelfelder. When your stomach is already queasy, loading it with sausage, eggs, and home fries won't help. Instead, you want something easy to digest that can quickly raise your blood sugar, like the simple carbohydrates in crackers and bread. The reason: Under normal conditions, your liver automatically produces more glucose from stored carbs when your blood sugar dips (see what happens when one writer decided to eat a GIGANTIC breakfast every day for a week). But when you drink, your liver is busy metabolizing your alcohol and can't always regulate your blood sugar, leaving you moody and drained of energy.
Drink a strong cup of black coffee to speed recovery.
Sorry, caffeine fiends, but your morning cup might actually make your nausea worse. "Caffeine will make you feel more alert and focus your attention, but it will not help your body process the alcohol any faster," says Michelfelder. Not only that, but in some people it can actually send you running for the nearest toilet. Coffee is incredibly acidic, so if you're already feeling queasy, then a cup of coffee might be just the push your body needs to vomit. (Here are the 8 best things to eat and drink after a binge.)
Stick to clear alcohol and you're golden.
This one is actually true! Sort of. The extra impurities in whisky or wine, as opposed to vodka, can get you drunk faster. But, that doesn't mean you can tip back shot after shot and be totally fine. The difference is subtle. "I'm talking two shots of vodka are going to be less likely to get you hungover than two glasses of wine," says Michelfelder.
Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you're in the clear.
This one is purely urban legend, says Koob. If you're going to drink to excess, especially if you drink quickly, then the order of your drinks doesn't matter. What matters is pacing and moderation. "The faster the alcohol gets absorbed into the bloodstream, the faster it gets to your brain. And the faster that occurs, the more severe your hangover will likely be," says Koob. So, if you toss back gin and tonics at the beginning of the night and then switch to beer, you might actually have a worse hangover than if you started with beer and paced out your G&Ts.