It’s safe to say that foresight isn’t your strong suit, or you wouldn’t be hungover to begin with. But here you are, off a night of heavy drinking and shitty sleep, praying that your head stops pounding and the bile in your stomach stays put. If you’re old enough to know what this feels like, you’re old enough to have heard that there’s one cure and one cure only: Hair of the dog.
Short for the “hair of the dog that bit you,” it’s the idea that the only thing to eradicate the nausea, headache, shakes and guilty reflection that a hangover slaps down mercilessly on its victims is more booze. Yes, it sounds dumb as fuck, and yet, people swear it sets the brain, body and stomach just right until you can get back home to your couch, eat bacon and pass out, or pick back up on more drinking later in the evening.
But could that possibly be right? Or is it indeed dumb as fuck? Or more politely, just something you’re convinced helps but actually has no grounding in science? To find out, we investigated whether there are any hard-and-fast guidelines for this palliative, and how to apply it as intelligently as possible given how irresponsibly you’ve already behaved.
Where did the idea of hair of the dog come from?
It’s generally attributed to the Ancient Greeks, the playwright Aristophanes and the notion that a rabid dog could be cured with some mixture involving its own hair.
Is everybody doing it?
It shows up around the globe with varying translations — in Spanish, it’s “a nail pulls out another nail”; in Polish, to “dislodge a wedge with a wedge”; in Danish, a “repair beer”; in Japanese, the “counter beer.” They all get at the same notion: The same drinking that caused your ailment is the one that will save your brutally hungover soul.
So does it cure your hangover or what?
That depends on how you define “cure.” Nothing “reverses” a hangover but sleep, fluids and time, so by that definition, scientists won’t call anything short of that a cure. Yet it obviously feels good, which at the very least makes it tempting.
“It’s unlikely anything could really get rid of all the symptoms,” says Aaron White, the senior scientific advisor at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “But there is every reason to believe that hangovers involve a mini-withdrawal syndrome, and that’s why the hair of the dog can reduce hangover symptoms for a short time, though perhaps making things worse in the long run.”
In other words, by re-dosing yourself, you’ve re-fed your addiction, just like giving into a smoke or some caffeine after trying to abstain. Everything bad about not doing the drug vanishes — the headache, the nausea, the shakes — as if you dodged a hangover bullet and fixed yourself right up again.
So why isn’t that a cure?
Because it’s temporary. White explains that “it’s only a short lasting quick fix and could actually prolong the hangover.” The medical industry backs this up. “The worst thing to do is to have another drink,” Charles Cutler, MD, told Health.com, explaining that your body needs to recover from the alcohol, so staving it off with another drink just means you’re doing more of the bad thing (again, so soon) and potentially setting yourself up for a worse hangover the next day.
But here’s where the lore captures the imagination, and why calling a hair of the dog “cure” ineffective is misleading to a group of people who are willing to do anything to avoid pain. Some hangover veterans attest that they can drink lightly enough post-hangover to patch it together and still be fine the next day, even refreshed.
This is the hair-of-the-dog Holy Grail. Sadly, it is probably also arguably more about an individual person’s disposition, tolerance, hangover severity and other habits — like maintaining hydration and proper nutrients — than a surefire method. It’s also probably the result of a lot of trial and error.
Still, this is the entire point of hair of the dog. And drinkers are nothing if not a myopically persistent bunch, so anything that feels good in the short-term is preferable to enduring a long period of feeling bad. This is why you drink so much in the first place.
Do you have to drink the same thing you drank the night before?
Not at all. Most cocktails jiggered specifically to aid hangovers are nothing like what you slammed down the night before, though the remedies usually involve the same ingredients — fruit or vegetable juice, “bracing flavors” from some liquors and sometimes egg whites for protein or a yolk to swallow, spices optional.
Most people recommend Bloody Marys as the go-to hair of the dog drink, because it combines some booze with a nutrient-rich tomato juice for hydration, plus spices that can soothe the stomach and vitamin C to perk you up. Some people swear by crisp light beers, like Corona. There’s also the brunch mainstay — the mimosa, which mixes the bubbly lightness of champagne with the hydration of orange juice — and its close cousin — the beer mimosa, which combines beer and orange juice.
Like everything, this is a highly individual choice, but there’s nothing to suggest you must drink the exact booze that fucked with you, and logic suggests you wouldn’t want to anyway, unless you feel like barfing.
Do you need to drink it first thing in the morning or can you wait until brunch or lunch?
Again, player’s choice. According to White’s logic, it makes sense to drink a hair-of-the-dog first thing in the morning, because if the entire point is to re-up the blood-alcohol level (which has reached zero and is why your hangover is at maximum shitshow levels), the sooner the better.
That said, most people need a little extra sleep the morning of a hangover to ease gently into consumption of any kind, particularly liquids or food. Come 11 a.m. then, it’ll be time for some protein, carbs or fat, a half glass of water (slowly sipped) and more booze.
So how much hair of the dog do you need to consume?
Recall that this is now medicinal booze, so unlike the firehose you pointed at your face the night before, it’s about application, not volume. The trick, of course, is to drink just enough, but not too much, to knock the hangover off course and still get through the day, either at work or just lying around feeling like utter shit. Play your cards right, and you’ll be able to drink again that very night. Even if that results in another, shittier hangover, remember that planning ahead is something you’ve never done, never will do, and make peace with this.
There’s perhaps one other option, but we don’t recommend it. As one Redditor notes on a post about hair of the dog, you can always just keep boozing forever and never face the hangover demons. After all, “you never get hungover if you never stop drinking.”