Humankind’s relationship with hangovers has been a tempestuous, 10,000-year affair. No matter how bad alcohol treats us, or however many times we utter the mythical words “never again,” we just can’t help but come back for more.
Ironically, while we know what causes hangovers — an unholy trilogy of lack of antioxidants, inflammation, and dehydration — and though we have been dealing with them for millennia, we’ve yet to come up with a bona fide cure for the morning after.
According to Market Watch, products commonly taken for hangovers, like Alka-Seltzer and over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen, carry a combined market value of over $4 billion.
The herbal and dietary supplement market, which includes hangover treatments like PartySmart and Drinkin’ Mate, hit $1.6 billion in value in 2017. Neither of these figures takes into consideration the sports drinks market, which contains some of the most popular hangover solutions.
Remedies haven’t always been so palatable. Ancient Assyrians cured the effects of overconsumption with a mixture of ground birds’ beaks and myrrh. In Rome, a smorgasbord of fried canary, raw owls’ eggs, and sheep’s lungs was thought to be just the ticket.
In 19th-century New England, sufferers swore by the Prairie Oyster, a combination of raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, vinegar, hot sauce, salt, and black pepper. Meanwhile, in actual England, warm milk mixed with a healthy serving of fireplace ashes was a common remedy.
In the 1930s, bartenders at New York’s Ritz-Carlton hotel swapped out those ashes for Coca-Cola. You drink it, they claimed, then “take a little nap and after that, you feel wonderful.”
The fact that none of these “cures” remain common proves that, in addition to sounding disgusting, none of them actually worked. American writer Dorothy Parker declared that “the best way to avoid a hangover is to stay drunk,” and, to her point, the ancient Scottish remedy “hair of the dog” remains popular. There are glitches to this plan, though. Having a boozy drink while hung over may rid your present-day pain, but you will be right back where you started tomorrow. Also, people have lives to live and jobs to go to.
To help you navigate the treacherous, head-splitting seas of hangover relief, we decided to test some of the most common non-alcoholic cures.
The investigation was completely unscientific, but we did try to keep things as consistent as possible. All remedies were sampled by this (now broken) writer. Each was consumed prior to eating and following an evening of merriment that didn’t quite reach the point of not remembering what was said or done, but having consumed enough to feel equally bad because of the fact I could.
Some might tell me that the only cure for a hangover is not drinking. To them, I borrow the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and point out that, “It’s easy to be wise after the event.”
Here are the best non-alcoholic drinks for curing a hangover, rated and ranked.
6. Irn Bru
Each of us has one nostalgic drink that carries no medical benefits but makes us feel better about the sorry state we’re in. For me, it’s Irn Bru.
While those outside Scotland may not have heard of the wonderful, toxic-looking orange concoction, Irn Bru is the nation’s leading soda, and the go-to drink for many when it comes to battling a hangover.
“You should really have it in the fridge now, chilling in anticipation of tomorrow,” Gregor Kyle wrote in a December 2017 Glasgow Live feature, “Glasgow hangover cures that will save your New Year.” He added, “Don’t bother with tea or coffee in the morning, the Bru will get you through.”
When sampled as part of this experiment, Irn Bru did nothing to cure the numerous physical complications of my hangover. The banging headache? That called for Advil. The dehydration? A few gallons of ice-cold water. It did help ease some of the mental anxiety, though, and the drink’s hefty serving of caffeine was a useful antidote to my tiredness.
Gatorade is packed with electrolytes, which help your body rehydrate by telling it to maintain fluids. It ought to be a great tool for replenishing the body after a night’s drinking, but Gatorade is flawed by a cloying, almost drying mouthfeel. This only compounds the cotton mouth sensation that is arguably one of the worst after-effects of a heavy night drinking.
Though science was telling me that Gatorade was rehydrating my hung over body, a pounding head and Sahara-esque mouth begged to differ. Extra water and Advil were necessary, though I did find that Gatorade energized me, which is strange given that it contains no caffeine. It was likely a placebo due to the drink’s association with sports and athletes, but it did help drag me into a place where I felt like I might actually be able to tackle the day, after all.
4. V8 Hydrate
Made using a sweet potato juice base, V8 Hydrate comes in three flavors: Strawberry Cucumber, Orange Grapefruit, and Coconut Watermelon. By far, Strawberry Cucumber is the most palatable, though the faint sweet potato aroma and flavor make for a slightly bizarre experience.
A newcomer on the market, V8 Hydrate offers many of the same remedies as Gatorade: It’s isotonic and contains electrolytes, meaning it will definitely help your body rehydrate. V8 Hydrate isn’t as sweet as Gatorade, however, nor does it have the same drying mouthfeel.
Claims that each 8-ounce can offers one of your daily servings of veggies made me feel better about my hung-over state, and I was eager to try and tackle the hangover with this drink alone. But when the headache hadn’t subsided after one hour and two cans consumed, I turned, once again, to Advil.
3. O2 Oxygenated Natural Recovery
You may recall Formula AM, a drinks brand marketed as a hangover cure that launched in 2011. The brand changed name and target audience in 2014, relaunching as O2 Oxygenated Natural Recovery. Its formula remains the same and the drink still offers all the same hangover-fighting goodness as the original.
A blend of electrolytes, caffeine, and oxygen, O2’s biggest advantage over other sports and energy drinks is that third ingredient, oxygen. It contains seven times as much oxygen as plain old, natural water. Though you may think it’s H2O your body craves when you’re hung over, oxygen is a crucial addition because it helps you process toxins faster.
It was a tall prospect to finish the large 16-ounce serving of O2, but by the time I had, I felt re-energized. My headache was quickly subsiding, and the hangover was definitely fading away. I probably could have gone without Advil and still felt fine with this one. (Full disclosure: I also had Advil. I was suffering, O.K.?)
Described by one website as “the thinking person’s hangover cure,” kombucha not only tackles the immediate difficulties of a hangover, it also offers some long-term benefits that could be beneficial for those whose social lives involve regular imbibing.
Antioxidant-rich, kombucha helps the liver detox. It is also a rich source of probiotics, which settle the stomach and aid digestion and inflammation.
Within a short period of time, kombucha left me feeling refreshed and replenished. I still regretted the previous night’s overindulgence, but at the same time felt good that I was tackling it in a healthy way. After finishing a bottle of GT’s Cayennade — chosen because cayenne pepper is also meant to carry hangover-curing benefits — my hangover and headache had significantly subsided.
If you aren’t familiar with kombucha, the liquid’s suspended particles and sometimes challenging flavors might not make a hangover the best time to try your first. If you drink it regularly, however, and are aware of all of its health benefits, reaching for a “‘buch” will instantly help with both physical and mental challenges.
First introduced as a rehydration drink for sick infants and toddlers, Pedialyte is now a popular form of hangover prevention and relief for adults. The brand recognizes and actively embraces the dual function on its website, noting that “it can help with the dehydration you may experience after a couple of cocktails.”
A staple at bartenders’ conventions like Tales of the Cocktail, Pedialyte comes in a variety of forms ranging from 1-liter bottles to powders and freezer pops. Unlike many other drinks tasted for this article, those who champion Pedialyte encourage drinking it before bed to prevent the hangover, as well as in the morning to try and revive you from one.
Pedialyte claims to pack in two times more electrolyte sodium than other sports drinks, while containing less than half the quantity of sugar. But its syrupy consistency means that a good chilling is ideal before drinking.
I sampled Pedialyte at the end of a night and woke up the next day feeling headache-free and surprisingly good. Pedialyte couldn’t help with the tiredness, nor did it cure some of the lingering mental anxiety, but apart from that, my hangover was nonexistent.
Pedialyte’s only drawbacks include the unease at having to buy it from the kid’s aisle in drugstores, and that it can be surprisingly difficult to remove its foil cap (no, really).
My advice? Be sure to stock the fridge and remove that foil before you head out. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.
Still looking for relief? If you’re fighting off a truly epic hangover, learn about I.V. therapy!