Hair of the dog?

I am sure I’m not the only one who has gone out in the past week with good intentions for just a few festive drinks and ended up having several tequila shots, crying over an empty bottle of rose and waking up reciting the ‘I’m never drinking again’ speech. This sad but familiar tale is often followed by a pounding headache, nausea, dry mouth and self loathing, aka a big fat hangover.

This feeling brings to light one of life’s big debates: ‘The hair of the dog’

The hair of the dog refers to having an alcoholic beverage to cure a hangover. But is there any scientific support for this? How would this work? Is it dangerous?

The support for hair of the dog:

-Research from the University of Southampton has supported the ‘hair of the dog’ idea from studying C.elegan worms (tiny little worms only 1mm in length).  It was found that small doses of alcohol relieved the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in the worms (the hangover). Worms who were treated with ethanol (the hair of the dog pint) became less ‘loopy’ and were able to navigate better. This is thought to work through the ethanol changing the signalling of various neuropeptides, brain chemicals whose pathways are thought to cause the chronic effects of alcohol. These worms may seem like a strange model to use but they actually react to alcohol in similar way to humans, suggesting that maybe this technique could help us become less ‘loopy’ on the morning after too.

-A hypothetical idea for why ‘hair of the dog’ works is that ethanol could be replacing methanol. This theory comes from Adam Rogers, author of ‘Proof: the Science of Booze’. He suggests that hangovers are a symptom of the very small amounts of toxic methanol which are present in all alcoholic drinks. This differs from the widely accepted idea that the hangover is due to dehydration. The idea is simple: the ethanol in the hair of the dog replaces the methanol from the night before’s drinks. Support for this comes from the fact that patients with methanol poisoning (which can cause blindness!) are given ethanol as an ‘antidote’ to the methanol. However, Adam’s idea is purely hypothetical, this hasn’t yet been tested, but in theory I guess it makes sense.

The dangers of hair of the dog:

– The research in Southampton also found that ‘hair of the dog’ increased dependency on alcohol in the worms. This can lead to serious alcoholism, which is why the NHS would NEVER recommend this as a healthy hangover cure.

– It has also been found to just delay the symptoms of a hangover, you may not feel too bad after that pint, but later on our friend the hangover will creep up on you as the level of ethanol drops.

– There is also support that the main cause of familiar hangover symptoms is simply dehydration, and more alcohol is definitely not going to sort that out!

So to sum up, although there is some scientific reasoning behind why some people swear by a cheeky hair of the dog pint, it can actually lead to pretty dangerous stuff, so I can’t say I would recommend it! Some better hangover cures (all with some hefty scientific back up) will be discussed in a future blog post!

Till next time,




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