The origin of the expression “hair of the dog” has just about as much myth as its actual definition. Stemming from the old belief that you could cure rabies by drinking a potion concocted with hair from the dog that bit you, the superstition now plays as a metaphor for the world’s wildest dog: alcohol.
Supposedly, and I use that word as a decade-plus drinker, if you wake up with a hangover, putting more booze in your system will work as the wrecking ball cure. A stunning percentage of your friends, from all walks of life, will swear by the practice’s effectiveness—except for the doctors and nurses.
That’s because “hair of the dog” doesn’t work, at least, not the way you hope. The reason everyone believes alcohol cures a hangover is because it absolutely, totally feels like that.
Here’s What’s Really Happening
Drinking booze the morning-after a wild night is more of a sneaky, temporary fix. It’s a distraction, a mask, a tasty yet wholeheartedly misleading experience.
“[Alcohol] will provide a numbing effect, but all you’re doing is prolonging the inevitable, and it will likely make your headache worse,” says Dr. Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, an addiction psychiatry consultant at the Mayo Clinic, in an interview with Men’s Health.
Experts will also definitely remind you that trying to cure alcohol with alcohol is a vicious cycle and a step toward dependency…so…there’s that. But the medical field’s recommend cure for a hangover is to “not drink so much,” so, you know, take it all with a grain of salt.
Here’s Another School of Thought
There are some folk who think that may not totally be the case. Adam Rogers, Wired editor, author of Proof: the Science of Booze, is one such individual. Though he admits it’s “hypothetical” at best, Rogers suggests that methanol, found in booze, is at least somewhat a driver of a hangover. His thought is to drink more booze, which also includes ethanol, so it’s kind of like fighting fire with fire… within yourself. His lofty reasoning is that doctors prevent methanol poisoning by giving patients ethanol before the body transforms it into formaldehyde.
Here’s What Actually Works
If you’re hungover, you need water, and there isn’t a lush alive who doesn’t already know that. Alcohol causes dehydration, so water is the safest, most universal kick to any hangover. It’s just that we, as off-the-leash boozehounds, tend to find reasons to justify potato tacos and Bloody Marys for breakfast.
Sports drink are a solid alternative as well, though they’re just as good as water at best. The whole “I need to replace my electrolytes” sounds cool, maybe even futuristic, but it’s largely unnecessary. You can also exercise. While the notion of “sweating out” booze is also a myth — I know, I’m a buzzkill—endorphins will at least help your mood. But cardio is also a very quick way to become more dehydrated, so keep that in mind.
Otherwise, stay wild (and safe.)