The throbbing head, the dry mouth, the sudden and unwelcome flashbacks that serve as wince-worthy reminders of last night’s goings on… hangovers are the stuff of nightmares, except you’re in too much pain to sleep. The only cure is another drink. Or so we’ve been told. “Hair of the dog” is as ingrained in our cultural lexicon as “best thing since sliced bread,” which actually makes sense given the fact that a true hangover cure would be the invention of the century.
The question is, does downing a morning-after cocktail help ease the after effects caused by the night before?
How ‘Hair of the Dog’ Came to Be
The full phrase is actually “hair of the dog that bit you”, an idiom that can be traced back to the 19th-century Scottish superstition that you could heal a dog bite using a few carefully placed hairs plucked from the offending animal. Using that same logic, the “bite” of a few too many pints could be cured by downing whatever drink caused the damage.
There’s also evidence the idea is much older; several sources cite the Greek playwright Aristophanes, who was known for his wry, comedic works, as saying, “If this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail the next day.” Seems clear enough.
Whatever its true origin, hair of the dog is a part of our lexicon and our culture, used by everyone from Jack Nicholson in The Shining to your neighbor Bob after that wicked New Year’s Eve party last year.
Does it Actually Work?
There’s a lot of power in hope, and hoping one more beer or a shot of tequila with your greasy diner burger will make the banging inside your skull subside may be the only thing keeping you from slinking back to bed and wallowing in Netflix and Gatorade. Still, knowing whether to pound a mid-morning margarita or not could save you some serious agony, so here we go.
Sorry, guys, but introducing more alcohol into your system is basically adding insult to injury. The symptoms of a hangover like fatigue, excessive thirst, nausea and vomiting, headaches, inability to sleep, sensitivity to noise and light, shaky hands, irritation, and rapid heartbeat are all linked to the numerous side effects of too much alcohol:
- Dehydration due to increased urination (alcohol is a diuretic)
- Stomach irritation (alcohol boosts your natural production of stomach acid and slows down digestion)
- Low blood sugar
- Interrupted REM sleep
It stands to reason that piling on more alcohol would be like spraying accelerant on a fire. And trust us, you’ll feel the burn. But there is also a hypothesis floating around that attributes hangovers to alcohol withdrawal. Though the studies are still out on that whole scenario, if it proves true then a touch of booze with breakfast could indeed help dial back the agony.
Beating a Hangover at its Own Game
The best cure for a hangover is to not actually get one.
- Eat before you drink, preferably a meal with a combination of good carbs, fat, and protein
- Continuously hydrate, downing at least one glass of the good stuff — water — for every alcoholic drink you imbibe
- Avoid or limit the consumption of darker spirits like bourbon, brandy, and red wine that are higher in congeners, a class of chemical substances that contribute to the smell, color, and taste of alcohol and may cause more intense hangovers
- Try to get plenty of rest, which may mean skipping the late-night partying if you can’t sleep in (because you’ll definitely want to sleep in)
- Up your electrolytes with sports drinks or infused waters that contain zinc, potassium, sodium, and vitamins A and B among others
If all your prep still leaves you feeling like you fought a semi-truck and lost, it’s time to explore damage control.
Hangover Cures You and Your Taste Buds Won’t Hate
Despite science knocking off our rosé-colored glasses about the curative possibilities of a little hair of the dog, there’s still a pretty little silver lining. Alcohol makes us feel good because it flips a switch in our brain that releases pleasure-inducing endorphins. Crawling out of bed and grabbing a cold beer may not physically roll back the symptoms of a hangover, but it could give you enough of a lift (or, let’s be blunt, a buzz) to survive the worst of the ill effects until time, a couple ibuprofen tablets, and your body’s natural repair mechanisms take care of the rest.
From the electrolyte-rich tomato juice to the low-congener vodka to the hit of spice that will remind your brain it’s alive, a Bloody Mary is a morning-after classic for a reason.
Sparkling Pear & Ginger Cocktail
This light and bubbly drink from Will Cook for Friends contains pear juice. Recent studies suggest the fruit may act as an anti-inflammatory and help balance out a night of heavy drinking. Though experts recommend drinking the pear before happy hour, not after, it can’t hurt to try it as a hangover cure, especially when paired with ginger for your sore stomach.
Anything with Fernet Branca
Fernet Branca is an Italian liqueur made from a bundle of some 27 powerful herbs and other aromatic goodies (the exact recipe is proprietary and closely guarded). Popular as a digestif in Europe, Fernet is known for its ability to quell a bad case of the bubble guts and may be useful for a hangover, too. You can drink Fernet straight up, over a couple cubes of ice, or mixed with something bubbly like soda water, ginger ale, or cola.
Got your own recipe for hair of the dog that works wonders? Do your fellow readers a solid and cough it up.