How to Avoid a Hangover with Nootropics (and Recover When You Can’t)

In a poorly lit dorm room in Krakow, Poland, I had my first taste of Polish vodka. It wasn’t long before friendly games turned sloppy, juice spilled, and our room became a mess. My group of friends headed downtown where alcohol continued to flow and music raged.

The night may have been fun, but the accompanying hangover the next morning was not. We’ve all had those nights. In fact, our ancestors have struggled with hangovers for nearly 9,000 years [1]. Few people learn how to avoid a hangover, but we’re here to remedy that.

The easiest way to prevent hangover symptoms is to not drink alcohol, but we will assume that isn’t an option.

With modern nootropics and unique hacks, it is possible to avoid a hangover.

We will first briefly summarize how hangovers happen, how to prevent a hangover, and how to fix the throbbing headache after a night out.

Preventing Hangovers: The 3 Horsemen of the Apocalypse

There are three aspects of alcohol consumption, which cause the hangover and accompanying health problems after a night of drinking.

Without going into too much scientific detail, they are:

Dehydration – drinking alcohol decreases the body’s ability to reabsorb water. Naturally this causes dehydration, which can lead to brain fog and less cognitive capacity [2]. This is one of the reasons you feel “fuzzy” the morning after drinking heavily.

Acetaldehyde – when we consume alcohol, our body breaks it down into a compound known as acetaldehyde, which is toxic [3]. In the short-term, this causes head and stomach aches among other problems. In the long term, it essentially pickles the liver, reduces immune health, and increases the rate of aging.

Mineral Depletion – going back to the dehydration issue, along with all the water you excrete goes many essential vitamins and minerals. Without them the body cannot properly function, which is why many people who experience no hangover the next day still feel brain fog and “slow” compared to normal.

These are the three main causes of hangover woes. Learning how to avoid a hangover starts with mitigating these three issues.

How to Prevent a Hangover in 3 Steps

Preventing hangovers is relatively simple, but not infinitely powerful. If you decide to drink an 24-pack of beer or a bottle of whiskey, there is little that nootropics or lifestyle changes can do.

Here is an effective basic process to prevent hangover symptoms in only 3 steps (before, during, after). Use this as the framework for preventing a hangover and continuing reading the sections below to find additional elements (some experimental) to add.

Before

Eating a meal and drinking 8 – 16 ounces of water before the first drink starts is a good idea. Here are some pre-drink nootropics as well:

  • 500 mg N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) – make sure to take this before and only before drinking. This is important because taking NAC during or after drinking can make things worse [4]. As we will discuss later, N acetylcysteine and alcohol go hand in hand.
  • 500 – 1000 mg Vitamin C – because we lose so many minerals during a night of drinking, it’s best to pre-empt deficiency by supplementing beforehand.

During

Drink a lot of water. By a lot, we mean, drink 10 – 12 ounces of water per alcoholic drink. Carry an extra bottle if you have to, but many of the hangover effects are related to dehydration the day after.

After

Once the last alcoholic beverage is complete and you’re headed home, try to get some last minute supplements into your system before going to sleep.

While this may not always be realistic, set yourself up for success beforehand by putting them within easy access.

  • 1 – 2000 mg Magnesium glycinate – given most people are deficient in magnesium while sober, alcohol will make this shortage even worse. This will help with sleep and replenish this essential nutrient.
  • B-Complex – the B-vitamins are imperative for cellular health, but alcohol (as with many other nutrients) will deplete vitamin B levels (thiamin especially). A B-complex can mitigate the hangover effects on the next day.
  • 100 mg Na-R-ALA (sodium R alpha lipoic acid) – this is one of the most powerful antioxidants, which scavenges reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (i.e: harmful stuff) and gets rid of it [5]. This can also help regenerate depleted vitamins and minerals.

Natural Hangover Prevention

For the all-natural crowd, there are a few alternatives to the framework we have created. Natural hangover method includes the following ingredients:

  • Pomella (pomegranate extract)
  • Cordyceps mushroom extract
  • White jelly mushroom extract

Between these three, there are a host of positive liver protectants and antioxidants [6].

How to Avoid a Hangover That Ruins Your Day

Towards the end of my drunken Krakow, Poland vodka experience, a couple of girls from my dorm guided me to safety. Although I remember none of this, the next morning I awoke with my pants on backwards, a throbbing headache and an upset stomach.

Even if I followed the protocol above, I could not prevent hangover symptoms.

Consuming high quantities of alcohol will make it nearly impossible to avoid a hangover of some sort, but there are additional nootropics and smart drugs to prevent this from ruining your day.

Here are a group of ingredients to add as needed based on your personal experience and unique brain chemistry.

Milk Thistle and Hangover Prevention

One of the organs hit hardest during heavy alcohol consumption is the liver. Not only does the liver have to remove toxins from the body, but it has to do so under strain (i.e: dehydrated and without proper nutrients).

Milk thistle and hangover prevention is new, but the natural compound has been used for thousands of years. Traditional medicine uses milk thistle to detox and protect the liver, but modern research has discovered the mechanism. A specific compound in milk thistle called “silymarin” yields the alcohol liver detoxification effects many people use [7].

In a 2006 study in the Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics, this silymarin compound helped reduce oxidative stress. The conclusion even noted “…preventative measures were more effective than curative treatment.” [8] This suggests that milk thistle and hangover prevention is possible, but you may want to add 500 mg before and after alcohol consumption.

N Acetylcysteine and Alcohol

If we could recommend only 1 nootropic to avoid hangovers, it would be N acetylcysteine (NAC). The correlation between N acetylcysteine and alcohol is quite great according to both scientific literature and anecdotal evidence.

Cysteine works so well against a hangover because this amino acid binds to acetaldehyde so it doesn’t interfere with our biological functions (as much). The 2008 study was published in Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research and confirmed how cysteine helps [9].

N-acetyl L cysteine is also helpful for producing the antioxidant, glutathione, which is helpful in normal circumstances, but imperative after alcohol abuse.

Although there are no studies pointing directly at this warning, anecdotal evidence suggests taking NAC during and after alcohol use can make the hangover worse.

One Redditor commented: “I’d read several blogs suggesting that NAC be taken before drinking and several times throughout the night while drinking. Boy do I regret it. I drank about maybe 50% of what is my capacity, meaning I should have had a moderate hangover at worst. I ended up with the worst hangover of my life. Literally did not recover until almost bed time the following day, and was still feeling effects into a second day of hangover.” [10]

A moderator (and well-respected community member) added: “You just have to take it before drinking. Taking it during and after can definitely make things worse.” [11]

Keep this in mind when learning how to avoid a hangover. Take NAC before it’s too late.

Lesser Known Hangover Cures

Now that you’ve learned how to avoid a hangover with more well-established options, it’s time to move into the experimental realm. While we relish the opportunity to educate and share novel compounds and nootropics, none of these are recommendations per se.

Much of this is either anecdotal or has not been well-researched, but some people may find this useful or interesting.

L-Alanine – This amino acid has a synergistic effect with the L cysteine benefits we explained earlier. According to a Japanese study from 1990, mice were given both amino acids, which showed efficacy oxidizing alcohol (i.e: removing the harmful effects) [12].

Piracetam – While it may not feel better right away, piracetam is known to reduce cognitive side effects of alcoholism. A 1995 study in Alcohol suggested piracetam could prevent the neurological degeneration and reverse negative effects of alcohol [13].

The caveat here is to use piracetam the day after drinking as opposed to before starting. Consumption of alcohol after consuming piracetam can increase alcohol tolerance (leading to more drinking) and create terrible side effects according to anecdotal reports [14].

Korean Pear – Long a traditional remedy, there is something about the korean pear fruit that can reduce the symptoms of a hangover. A 2013 study in Food and Chemical Toxicology boldly declared that Korean pear juice could alleviate alcohol hangover symptoms by 16 – 21% and detoxify the body [15].

A more recent paper, the same hypothesis was confirmed [16].

Emoxypine – Widely unknown, emoxypine is a synthetic salt similar to vitamin B6 with strong antioxidant properties (though research focuses on diseased patients) [17]. The anecdotes are where emoxypine starts to get interesting. Proceed with caution.

One Redditor suggested: “The anxiolytic qualities are great, and the lack of impairment and complete absence of hangovers after an evening of alcoholic drinks is equally useful.” [18]

A well-respected moderator added “...I’ve actually started preferring Emoxypine for drinking. You can take it either before or after, and it works very well…” [19]

Dihydromyricetin – Yet another ambiguous chemical compound, this extract is from the oriental raisin tree and has been used to make tea for centuries. Like emoxypine, the dihydromyricetin compound is an antioxidant [20] and it has been successfully tested to reduce alcohol consumption in rat models [21].

A Redditor (named jupiter3888) said “There is a big difference when I consume Alcohol with Dihydromyricetin (DHM) compared with just alcohol by itself…” [22]

how to avoid a hangover

Alcohol Alternatives for a Good Time

It’s been awhile since I’ve had as much alcohol as I did 7 years ago in Krakow, Poland. Since then, I’ve largely avoided alcohol altogether, but still found small hacks to improve my experience here and there.

Other than essential oils (breathe mint deeply on your hands) or breathing techniques, there are a host of social lubricants that don’t include alcohol.

Kava kava – one of the greatest tragedies is how many people feel a constant state of anxiety. Often, this is the first (and major) impulse to turn towards alcohol. Kava kava is a root, which has potent anti-anxiety effects. If you live in an urban environment, you may have already seen kava bars popping up. Some people even look for a “kava kava high

St. John’s Wort – a study of St. John’s wort found the natural extract was as effective as traditional antidepressants and prescription drugs without the side effects [23]. This effect comes through interactions with serotonin and can help some people with socializing and avoid alcohol altogether.

Aniracetam – another common reason to drink alcohol is to reduce social anxiety and “be one of the group”. While there are few studies related to alcohol, anecdotal evidence suggests aniracetam works well for reducing social anxiety.

Phenibut HCl – finally, there is phenibut HCl. Even though phenibut is not considered the safest option (and definitely has as strong / worse side effects as alcohol), it is an optional alternative every once in awhile for those who have experience with the drug.

References (Click to Expand)
  1. Tom Standage “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” Pg. 47
  2. http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00363/full
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_IARC_Group_1_carcinogens
  4. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/4wd4qb/nac_made_my_hangover_worse/
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7649494
  6. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/4wd4qb/nac_made_my_hangover_worse/
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20564545
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17133738
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/23409237_Reduction_of_Ethanol-Derived_Acetaldehyde_Induced_Motivational_Properties_by_l-Cysteine
  10. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/4wd4qb/nac_made_my_hangover_worse/
  11. Ibid.
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2275637
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7639963
  14. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/1mn8n9/piracetam_and_alcohol/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23587660
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827629/
  17. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11055-012-9646-3
  18. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/3bl9jh/emoxypine_is_really_underrated/
  19. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/4wd4qb/nac_made_my_hangover_worse/
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12889119
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22219299
  22. https://www.reddit.com/r/Nootropics/comments/1u40cv/in_the_spirit_of_nye_what_is_the_ultimate/
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18843608

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