Measles Information

Person holding their face while sitting in bed, as if with a headache.
Person holding their face while sitting in bed, as if with a headache.

Do Hangover Pills Really Work?

Examining the Claims and Ingredients

Hangovers from alcohol are nothing new, and the quest for a quick cure has been a long one. Enter hangover pills — readily available over the counter and online, promising to erase the consequences of a night of overconsumption. Before you stock up, Amanda C. Cheung, MD, a Northwestern Medicine hepatologist, separates hangover pill fact from fiction.

Dissecting Hangover Pills: What’s Inside?

“There are a lot of supplements on the market that claim to work as hangover pills, and the ingredients in these different products vary tremendously,” explains Dr. Cheung. “Many have various types of vitamins and electrolytes, and others have proprietary ingredients that claim to break down acetaldehyde, which is the first chemical your body makes when breaking down alcohol.”

Some ingredients you may find in hangover pills:

  • Hydration boosters: Electrolytes like sodium and potassium to help replenish lost fluids.
  • Pain relievers: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin to help reduce headaches or body aches.
  • Anti-nausea relievers: Extracts like ginger, prickly pear and peppermint to help settle an upset stomach. Some products with prickly pear extract claim that it also helps with hangover-related inflammation.
  • Cysteine: An amino acid thought to help the body process acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism.
  • B vitamins: Alcohol can disrupt the absorption of B vitamins, which can contribute to fatigue.
  • Caffeine: An additive to promote alertness and, in theory, also help reduce fatigue.

The Claims: Too Good to Be True?

“Next-day recovery”

“Fast hangover relief”

“Feel great after drinking”

“Support your liver and ensure a better morning after”

In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters to companies illegally selling hangover products that claimed to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent hangovers. Dr. Cheung warns that these claims are unregulated by the FDA, so what they claim to do may not actually in fact be true.

Well-designed clinical studies are needed to prove the efficacy of these pills,” says Dr. Cheung. “Currently there are no randomized, placebo-controlled studies to support these claims. Importantly, none of these pills are going to make alcohol consumption any safer for the body; specifically, none will prevent damage to the liver.”

Dr. Cheung says the only way to prevent liver damage is to consume alcohol in moderation or not at all. “If you have another liver condition, like metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic fatty liver disease, which affects almost one-third of the worldwide population, then no amount of alcohol use is safe,” she says. She also warns that hangover pills may give consumers the false impression that it’s safe to go ahead and consume excessive amounts of alcohol.

What Causes a Hangover in the First Place?

A number of factors contribute to a hangover, including:

  • Acetaldehyde: Alcohol is metabolized by your body into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is the compound that causes many of the hangover symptoms.
  • Dehydration: Alcohol affects the hormonal balance in the body, which leads to increased urination and overall dehydration. Volume losses from vomiting or diarrhea can make you more dehydrated.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms: The direct effects of alcohol on the gut can lead to various gastro-intestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Disturbed sleep. Although alcohol acts as a depressant (and as a result causes drowsiness), the quality of sleep you experience after drinking is poor, which further compounds hangover symptoms.
  • Drink additives: Some additives and chemicals in a drink, like sulfites in wine, congeners (provide flavor, aroma and color) in rum and bourbon, or sugar in mixed drinks, can contribute to hangover symptoms. However, Dr. Cheung says the primary cause of a hangover is directly related to the alcohol.

What’s My Drink Limit?

First, it’s important to understand the definition of one drink:

  • 12 fluid ounces of beer (roughly 5% alcohol)
  • 5 fluid ounces of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor (roughly 40% alcohol)

Using that definition, the recommendation is to limit yourself to one drink a day for women* and two for men, and avoid binge drinking, which is defined as consuming four drinks in a two-hour period for women and five for men).

“Alcohol is primarily absorbed by the small intestine,” says Dr. Cheung. “Thus, consuming food before or while consuming alcohol can delay the rate of absorption of alcohol.” She adds that dehydration plays an important role in hangover symptoms, so consuming water alongside an alcoholic beverage is beneficial. Aim for at least one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed. “Hydration is likely the most important step to treating a hangover since dehydration is one of the key reasons for feeling the symptoms associated with a hangover,” says Dr. Cheung.

Bottom Line

If you are considering taking any supplements, including hangover pills, it’s important to talk with your care team. They can advise you on potential interactions with medications you’re already taking and check if they’re safe for you. If you do choose to drink alcohol, know your risks and the organs that can be affected, starting with your brain, heart and liver.

Learn more about alcohol use.

*Scientists do not always collect information from participants about gender identity. To avoid misrepresenting the results of this research, we use the same terminology as the study authors.