Hangovers keep you lean, mean, and honest. They punish you for your hubris and force the necessary introspection that comes after a night of self-abuse. The worst hangovers steel you for your next worst hangover—and for New Yorkers who have two or more drinks on a given evening, they're part of life [pdf]. Given that there is medicine to keep you studying, copulating, and growing hair, why not a potion for hangovers? If only it were that simple. In the interest of the most august journalism, we tested several different hangover "cures" so that you may be better prepared.
It's important to know thy enemy, so what exactly happens to the human body when it's experiencing a hangover? How can all those cute little Tooters be responsible for such splitting pain? We asked Dr. Jason Rosenberg, assistant professor of neurology and the director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center for the big picture. "You're basically poisoning yourself when you drink alcohol to excess and there's not a great antidote for it."
"Nerves that are normally quiet that don't respond to light, noise, movements, your own heartbeat—they get revved up," says Rosenberg. "They're firing pain signals, so that you can feel every beat of your heart. Boom. Boom. Boom." Dr. Rosenberg posits that these nerves are largely responsible for the torture. "Nearby systems kind of get kicked off either reflexively or directly from the alcohol's toxins that cause nausea." And what about profuse sweating and piercing hatred of the sun? "A whole variety of reflexes might get kicked up too: light sensitivity, sweating, other non-specific responses."
Dr. Rosenberg noted that there wasn't a whole lot that can be done to immediately alleviate the symptoms of a hangover—when you've got it, you've got it. It's easier to prevent one, presumably by not drinking as much. But Bytox, a patch you apply to "a dry, hairless" part of your body, promises you can have your tequila and body-shot it too. "How to cure a hangover? Prevent one with Bytox!" its website crows. Dr. Leonard Grossman, a plastic surgeon and Bytox-backer, explained to us how it's supposed to work.
"The more you drink, the more vitamins you wash out of your body. What this patch does, is give you a continuous infusion of the same vitamins that you're losing out on." We were skeptical. Isn't this Nicoderm-inspired snake-oil? "Try it. If you're a reasonable drinker, or even unreasonable drinker, it works…the next morning say you have a business meeting or presentation to be at, you'll have a clear head."
We slapped on a Bytox patch 45 minutes before drinking, as directed, and hit the town. After the smugness that comes with invincibility wore off, we noticed something wasn't right. Why were we smelling Fred Flintstone in our Jameson? Our favorite bartender David confirmed our fears: "Dude, your arm smells like vitamins." Eight drinks and a fitful night's rest later, our head felt like a gaggle of feral weasels stuck in a timpani drum.
An attempt to lower the booze intake (five drinks) and increase the dosage (two patches!) was equally as unsuccessful. However, Bytox's adhesive did an excellent job of resisting repeated showering.
Dr. Rosenberg points out what might be Bytox's fatal flaw: "Drug companies who've been interested in patches have had a horrendous time designing patches to get larger molecules across the skin or let alone any molecules." So these vitamin molecules are too big to even enter our skin? "To get that to work would be a major pharmaceutical Holy Grail." One that's probably worth more than $3 a dose.
After seeing an article on Blowfish, a new effervescent tablet is "FDA-approved," we were intrigued. Brenna Haysom, Blowfish's creator, tells us the idea for the product was born from her own experiences. "A lot of people think of a hangover as an embarrassing thing. People just don't feel sorry for you when you have a hangover. But I really do think of them as a fact of life. Haysom says, "I wouldn't say I'm a super-heavy drinker, but I certainly drink…and the more research I did, I saw there was a gap in the market. You don't want to condone over-drinking, but it is something that happens."
Fizz! Fizz my pretties! Before the sunlight hits our eyes! (Gothamist)
We dropped the fizzy tablets in a mug of water and greedily gulped it all down. Unlike Alka-Seltzer, Blowfish has a pleasant citrus taste, and there is something deeply gratifying about drinking water that you yourself made fizzy. Though it didn't completely wipe our hangover out, we certainly felt the vise around our temples loosening, and our disposition was markedly cheerier. Perhaps that's because Blowfish contains aspirin and caffeine, two products that the FDA acknowledges as effective. "Our product is not any special voodoo magic," Haysom says.
Dr. Rosenberg agrees: "It's a very reasonable product. No crazy claims, other agents in it are inactive, and effervescent aspirin is popular in Europe." He also points out that Bayer Back & Body has the same amount of aspirin, and half as much caffeine. BC Headache Powder is also very similar, and considerably cheaper.
But marketing makes a difference, and Blowfish, made by NYC-based Rally Labs, will be sold in Duane Reades in the new year. Haysom plans on offering a 60-minute courier service for those who need immediate relief. "In my opinion, it should be next to the coffee and every employer should stock it. But I understand that people are more sensitive to the issue. We did just change the packaging to a plain manilla envelope."
Until we can afford to have someone dressed as a doctor in a bowling shirt handing us our ibuprofen, we'll shovel it into our mouths ourselves (Shutterstock)
Ibuprofen and water: this is the method with which we are most familiar, and where we will continue to place our trust. Not to mention the cheapest. "Rehydration is the most important thing," Dr. Rosenberg says. "Drinking half-strength Gatorade or Pedialyte may help too." Everyone has their weird rituals, and ours is to chug 60 seconds worth of water before bed, and another 60 when waking. Don't take Tylenol or anything containing acetaminophen to prevent (more) damage to your liver.
"Know your limits, stay hydrated, eat while you're drinking. Do it responsibly and make sure you get some sleep," Dr. Rosenberg advises. Will there ever be a "Holy Grail" hangover drug? "There have been some designer drugs for migraines that I suspect might help substantially. But the odds of getting those FDA-approved for hangovers are pretty low."
So until Big Pharma stops holding out on us, the best way to alleviate a hangover is age-old method of downing a glass of water for every drink. Also, try to avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Of course, you could consider cutting back on your drinking ha ha, but then you'd be so much less funny and attractive. And let's face it; that vodka-infused tampon isn't going anywhere.