Can a hangover be cured?

It’s an alluring idea, that you can party hearty all night and ward off the consequences the next morning with a magic pill or patent tonic. Maybe you’ve hit upon something that stops your hangover in its tracks. If so then you’ll have to make a very good case because science currently knows of no hangover cures.

That doesn’t mean a hangover cure is out of the question. It just means that all the “cures” tested so far — to the satisfaction of medical science — have not done the trick. Given how many have been proposed, and how few of those have been rigorously examined, it’s quite possible that a hangover cure is knocking around somewhere. But if it is then science had little to do with its discovery.

There is no great reason to believe that hangovers can’t be cured. But the difficulty science has in concocting a hangover cure is that science doesn’t really understand hangovers in the first place. They seem to have something to do with acetaldehyde. The body turns alcohol into acetaldehyde and then that into acetic acid, the chief ingredient in vinegar. We can tell that it’s the intermediate step — the presence of acetaldehyde — that causes so much havoc, but it is not totally clear how. To complicate things further there are a number of secondary effects of alcohol and drinking which contribute to hangover symptoms.

Until this gap in our knowledge is filled the only contribution science can make to the hangover cure hunt is to evaluate promising candidates in clinical trials. But there are a lot of candidates, and proper trials are expensive and difficult to run. So this could take a while.

Meanwhile, if you want to live it up and then try the hair of the dog, vitamin B, borage, Vegemite or whatever, then good for you. If it makes you feel good, even better. Just remember it may be your belief in the cure, rather its ingredients, that does you good. Hangovers probably are curable — we just don’t know how to do it yet.

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