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'Hair of the dog' won't cure that hangover

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Feb. 14, 2017 – In medieval Europe, when astrology and blood-letting were frequently employed in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, one therapy for rabies was to place some pieces of hair from the rabid dog onto the victim’s bite wound.

It didn’t work.

But it did give rise to the notion that “the hair of the dog that bit you” – a drink – can cure a hangover. This concept is rather ancient, too, having first appeared in print in 1546.

It doesn’t work, either.

“There’s no scientific evidence that having an alcoholic drink will cure a hangover,” said Laura Veach, Ph.D., director of screening and counseling intervention services and training in the Department of Surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “It will, at best, postpone one.”

A hangover develops when an elevated concentration of alcohol in the blood caused by drinking falls sharply after drinking stops. The symptoms – usually some combination of headache, thirst, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and general grumpiness – reach their peak when the blood-alcohol level hits zero.

“Taking a drink the morning after may temporarily make you feel better because you’re putting alcohol back into the system,” said Veach. “But it doesn’t cure the hangover; it just sort of tricks you by masking the symptoms. They’re going to show up eventually.”

So is there no cure?

“Rest, hydration and aspirin can help some, but they won’t make the hangover go away,” Veach said. “The only real cure is time.”

What if you want to help somebody who’s tipsy, buzzed, smashed or otherwise inebriated get sobered up? You give them black coffee, right?

“No, all that does is give you a wide-awake drunk,” Veach said.

The liver, she explained, detoxifies alcohol in the system and does so at only one rate, which is about one drink per hour.

“There’s nothing we know of that can speed up that process,” Veach said. “Not drinking coffee, taking a shower, standing on your head, getting slapped, walking around outside in the cold. Nothing.”

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