Hangover cures

Splitting headaches, sickness, dizziness, dehydration: anyone who's ever drunk too much knows the consequences of it.

Alcohol is a diuretic (meaning it removes fluids from the body), so drinking excessively can lead to dehydration. Dehydration is what causes many of the symptoms of a hangover.

Alcohol can upset your stomach and give you a bad night’s sleep. You may still have some alcohol in your system the next morning.


Cure myth

Hangover cures are generally a myth. There are no cures for a hangover. There are tips for avoiding hangovers and for easing the symptoms if you have one.

The best way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. If you decide to drink, do it sensibly and within the recommended limits.

To minimise the risk of future serious health problems, men shouldn't regularly drink more than three to four units a day. Women shouldn't regularly drink more than two to three units a day.

To avoid a hangover, don't drink more than you know your body can cope with. If you're not sure how much that is, be careful.


Know your units

You can keep track of how many units you're consuming using the Change4Life Drinks Tracker app available from iTunes and Google Play. 

A large glass of wine, for instance, contains around three units. In one evening, that can quickly add up to a lot more than you intended to drink. Here are some examples:

  • a can of standard lager, beer or bitter – 1.8 units 
  • a pint of standard lager, beer or bitter – 2.3 units
  • a small glass of wine (125ml) – 1.5 units
  • a large glass of wine (250ml) – 3 units 
  • a measure of spirits (25ml) – 1 unit  

Follow these tips to keep hangovers away:

  • Don't drink on an empty stomach. Before you go out, have a meal that includes carbohydrates (such as pasta or rice) or fats. The food will help slow down the body’s absorption of alcohol.
  • Don't drink dark-coloured drinks if you've found that you're sensitive to them. They contain natural chemicals called congeners (impurities), which irritate blood vessels and tissue in the brain and can make a hangover worse.
  • Drink water or non-fizzy soft drinks in between each alcoholic drink. Carbonated (fizzy) drinks speed up the absorption of alcohol into your system.
  • Drink a pint or so of water before you go to sleep. Keep a glass of water by the bed to sip if you wake up during the night.

The NHS recommends:

  • Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day
  • Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day
  • If you've had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours

    "Regularly" means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.


    The morning after

    If you wake up the next morning feeling terrible, you probably didn't follow this advice. Although there are no real cures for hangovers, there are ways to ease the symptoms.

    Treatment involves rehydrating the body so it can deal with the painful symptoms (though the best time to rehydrate is before going to sleep).

    Over-the-counter painkillers can help with headaches and muscle cramps. Paracetamol-based remedies are usually preferable, as aspirin may further irritate the stomach and increase nausea and sickness.

    Sugary foods may help you feel less trembly. In some cases, an antacid may be needed to settle your stomach first.

    Bouillon soup, a thin vegetable-based broth, is a good source of vitamins and minerals, which can top-up depleted resources. Its main advantage is that it's easy for a fragile stomach to digest.

    You can replace lost fluids by drinking bland liquids that are easy on the digestive system, such as water, soda water and isotonic drinks (available in most shops).

    "Hair of the dog" (drinking more alcohol) does not help. Drinking in the morning is a risky habit, and you may simply be delaying the appearance of symptoms until the alcohol wears off again.

    If you've had a heavy drinking session, hangover or not, doctors advise that you wait 48 hours before drinking any more alcohol, in order to give your body tissues time to recover. Sometimes, of course, a hangover makes that advice easier to follow.

    Page last reviewed: 10/09/2014

    Next review due: 10/09/2016


    How helpful is this page?

    Average rating

    Based on 719 ratings

    All ratings

    Add your rating


    The 9 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

    HeidiWho said on 07 June 2015

    I'm 32 and have had my fair share of hangovers multiplied. The think I have found most helpful is to just drink loads of water and rest.it's such a horrible fate! After drinking too much. Drinking water and eating toast seems to help me the most. Replenish what is lost. Hope you all feel better! X

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    TheRef said on 13 March 2015

    Baksee makes a good point. Only the NHS in UK converts alcohol to "units". They are complicated to understand and have no relevance to consumers. When not just talk in absolutes? Why does the NHS want to suppress life experiences to such an extent that all anyone every does is live in a protective bubble for as long as possible?
    People drink, many drink a little too much and sometimes pay the consequences with a sore head the next day. However, they choose to do this again and again. Again, the article ignores the positive experiences of alcohol for consumers. They ignore the benefits and only focus on the dull old potential negatives. The advice is ignored. NHS Choices editorial guidelines prevent me explaining how "Hair of the Dog" helps but please do your own research.

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    Baksee said on 05 July 2014

    I nearly did not read this article, as instead of dealing immediately with the issues it starts by talking about units of alcohol - and saying they can be difficult to work out - really? If a person is drinking in a social situation they are not going to be saying "Oh I've Consumed 5 units, that is my limit" - they are likely to be enjoying themselves and chatting (or dancing). Units are actually fairly easy to work out if you think of as a standard drink as 1 unit (SMALL glass of wine, 1/2 pt standard beer, 25 ml spirits etc take into account larger measures - its not rocket science even when slightly inebriated ) a minor miscalculation will not cause a hangover!
    If you are driving you should know what you are doing and avoid drinking anyway.
    The pint of water preventative I find very effective, you may not be in a state to remember to do this when you get home so putting it by your bed before you go out is sensible, (but don't knock it over when you pour yourself into bed! also if you can still stand up and co-ordinate I also find a shower helps. - I like to eat a full english breakfast the next morning including cereal and fruit juice. - I find that replaces anything the alcohol may have removed. AS someone who has not had a hangover in 10 years I must be doing something right.

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    Akkenru said on 20 February 2014

    To the previous poster...

    1. Alcohol rapidly increases water output from the kidneys. That's why urine will appear pale or clear when consuming significant amounts of alcohol. Typical drinks like beer, wine and spirits with mixers contain a lot of water and the amount of extra water output by the kidneys due to alcohol is generally not more than the water content of these drinks.

    However, that puts you back to your standard equilibrium and you still need to consume extra non-alcoholic fluids that you would normally have during the course of a day, otherwise you'll be dehydrated from your normal water losses. Also, when you start drinking neat spirits at 35% alcohol or more, you'll lose more water from the diuretic effect of alcohol than you're taking on with the drink and you really really need to consume other non-alcoholic fluids in that circumstance.

    2. One thing the body does exceptionally well is exchange dissolved gases across membranes, the carbon dioxide in carbonated drinks is a dissolved gas and when it hits the membranes in the digestive system, the membranes adjust to increase their permeability in order to expediate the removal of this waste gas by the blood, a subsequent effect of which is increased osmosis of other small molecules and electrolytes, which include alcohol.

    3. One of the effects of alcohol in tissues is to mess up electrolyte balance. It has a charge and is absorbed by tissues, and actively taken up by tissues thinking it's a sugar. The charge messes with membrane potentials and causes electrolytes to be in the wrong places, at higher concentrations this is noticeable when you start losing motor functions, speech slurring et al. because of the neurons being unable to maintain the correct electrolyte levels for proper innervation.

    When the alcohol finally goes from your system, your electrolytes go back to normal, but you will have lost some because they escaped into circulation and got excreted by the kidneys.

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    Akkenru said on 20 February 2014

    You thus need to replace the ones you've lost. Now, you can do that with your normal diet, or you can do so with an electrolyte rich food source like a bouillon or soup. Incidentally, miso soup is excellent for that.

    Also, isotonic and electrolyte rich fluids aid in hydration for the simple reason that electrolytes attract water and when you increase their concentrations in body tissues, you increase the attraction they exert on water molecules, thus facilitating a slightly faster movement of water into cells, but critically maintaining more water in the cells than was there before. More water and slightly faster movement of water into cells is better hydration.

    4. Vomiting does indeed relieve nausea, however it's always best to avoid vomiting whenever possible because in doing so you lose a massive load of electrolytes and resources from the digestive system which only get replaced from other parts of the body. You're thereby reducing electrolytes required for vital functioning and water balance in other tissues in the body which can cause serious problems if they aren't replaced. That's one of the reasons why electrolyte formulations such as dioralyte are given to people losing a lot of fluid from sickness and diarrhoea conditions.

    Avoid vomiting at all costs, and if you do, make sure you replace electrolytes and fluids by drinking water, isotonic drinks, eating soups and if you think you need it, taking dioralyte.

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    healthchoices said on 22 January 2014

    I honestly believe the present article has several flaws:

    1. Alcohol (ethanol) by itself has only mild diuretic effect since it inhibits the release of the hormone ADH, but when a person tends to become slightly dehydrated, the inhibiting effect on the ADH release vanishes and antidiuresis works as it should, so alcohol by itself does not likely cause dehydration (there is usually plenty of water in alcoholic beverages, anyway).
    <a href="http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10925&page=134">nap.edu</a>

    Two main reasons for alcohol-related dehydration are, for example:
    a) drinking alcoholic beverages without drinking enough water on a hot summer night, in which case dehydration results from water deficiency and not alcohol-induced diuresis
    b) repeated vomiting

    2. In general, fizzy drinks do not signifficantly affect alcohol absorption (in different individuals they may either stimulate or inhibit gastric emptying, though).

    3. There is no proof that any liquid, including bouillon soup or isotonic drinks provide better hydration or relieve hangover symptoms better than plain water. For a person with hangover nausea, bland beverages and foods are prefered to avoid further stomach irritation.

    4. A general knowledge is that vomiting often greatly relieves nausea — I would expect this to read this in the article.

    I've made a research about hangover and published it here with a lot of references:
    <a href="http://www.ehealthstar.com/hangover.php"<ehealthstar.com</a>

    If someone can provide more accurate information about the issues exposed, I'd appreciate the link to human trials.

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    RH2013 said on 06 December 2013

    If you are worried about any aspects of drinking perhaps you may find the talkhealth online clinic, specialising in issues with alcohol and addiction useful.The clinic is open now and taking questions which are responded to by experts promptly and sensitively.

    It really is a place where you can seek advice for things which you may find difficult to ask your own GP, looking after ourselves is so important. Use these opportunities.


    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    Lavender_Drama said on 26 July 2013

    Before the war, the way we used to do it was to have a banana, and hold a newspaper under your chin. Something to do with muscles and potassium, I think. I wish I knew for certain. This was taught to me by a doctor, formerly of the Manchester Regiment, and a jolly good rum-swigger to boot.

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    A Normal Person said on 01 August 2009

    This advise is extremely useful when waking up after a few too many, unfortunately there are people who cannot enjoy alcohol sensibly and responsibly. Fortunately there are services like www.alcoholresponse.com to help them, but please, leave the senisble drinkers alone. Perhaps if you took the advice, as intended, people will stop going to GP's, ringing out of hours doctors and in the extreme cases going to A&E with hangovers. Meaning more NHS resources are available to help the same people your trying to help!

    Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

    Getting started

    Your NHS Health Check

    Millions of people have already had their free "midlife MOT". Find out why this health check-up is so important

    Also on NHS Choices

    Alcohol myth buster

    Test your knowledge of alcohol-related risks and make sure you're fully informed. Can you tell fact from fiction?

    Alcohol myth buster

    Services near you

    Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

    Cut down on alcohol

    Don't let drink sneak up on you

    Cutting down on alcohol doesn’t have to be hard. Use our simple drinks checker and get tips on ways to cut back.

    Drinking and alcohol

    Calculate your units, read about the health risks of drinking too much, and find out where to get help and support