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Alcohol and Mental Health

Does a Shower Help a Hangover

March 14, 2024
17 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
March 14, 2024
17 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
March 14, 2024
17 min read

Can a Shower Really Cure a Hangover?

  • There’s a common perception that showering can relieve hangover symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, fatigue, and overall malaise. While water won’t “cure” a hangover, it can soothe skin receptors, improve circulation, relieve muscle tension, and boost mood.
  • You can try a warm or cold shower, but it’s most important to drink lots of water, eat easy-to-digest food, engage in light movement, and get plenty of rest.
  • Reframe can help you learn more about the science of hangovers through daily readings and courses. We can also help you avoid the next hangover by developing more mindful drinking habits.

In The Shipping News, author Annie Proulx describes a character dealing with hangover symptoms in the traditional way: “At least he could turn on the shower, stand beneath the hot needles, face thrust near the spray head, feeling the headache move back a little.”

But do showers help hangovers? Why do showers make you feel better after you’ve had a few too many? And is there a difference between a cold or hot shower for hangover relief? Let’s explore this common hangover “cure” in more detail.

Hangovers: The Science

What is a hangover exactly? It comes down to our body’s reaction to alcohol metabolism. When we drink, alcohol has an effect on pretty much every system in our body. You can read more detail in our article about the health effects of alcohol, but let’s look at a brief overview.

  • The brain gets a quick hit of dopamine (the “feel good” neurotransmitter) followed by depressant effects.
  • The liver gets busy trying to eliminate booze from our system.
  • The stomach may get irritated as digestion slows down.
  • The kidneys expel extra water, leading to dehydration.
  • The heart beats faster, and blood pressure might fluctuate.

All of this happens shortly after that first sip. As the alcohol enters our system, these changes continue to develop and can lead to a potential hangover down the line. The most common hangover symptoms we all know (and dread) — dehydration, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and overall malaise — are caused by a number of factors. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are a few key factors that contribute to hangovers.

  • Dehydration. Many of the notorious symptoms of a hangover, such as headaches and fatigue, are directly linked to dehydration.
  • Acetaldehyde. When the liver processes alcohol, it releases a toxic byproduct known as acetaldehyde. Although it later gets converted to harmless acetic acid, acetaldehyde temporarily builds up in the system and causes unpleasant side effects.
  • Inflammation. Alcohol triggers an inflammatory response that contributes to some hangover symptoms.

Curing a Hangover: The Myths

Hangovers are super common. According to the Cleveland Clinic, one study showed that a whopping 75% of people who drink too much on a given night end up hungover the following morning. What about the lucky 25% who skate by without one? The researchers concluded they might be naturally resistant.

Because they’re so common, hangovers are also the subject of many myths — especially when it comes to curing them.

  • “Beer before liquor, never sicker.” It sounds catchy, but is it true? Not so much. The order of drink types doesn’t matter nearly as much as the overall amount of alcohol when it comes to accounting for the severity of a hangover.
  • “The hair of the dog will make you feel better.” Unfortunately, this persistent myth is still around even though there’s absolutely no truth to it. Drinking more during a hangover will only delay the inevitable and make the situation worse.
  • “A shower will help get rid of a hangover.” And finally, the question of the day: do showers help hangovers? As much as we’d all like a one-and-done “cure,” this is largely an exaggeration (but not entirely!).

The “Magic Touch” of Water: Why Do Showers Make You Feel Better?

While a shower might not “cure” a hangover, it certainly won’t hurt — and might actually help! Here’s how:

  • Skin receptor activation. Hot and cold showers both activate thermoreceptors in the skin, which can have many positive effects and increase overall stimulation.
  • Blood flow and circulation improvements. A shower can stimulate blood flow. Improved circulation allows our blood to efficiently deliver nutrients and oxygen to body tissues while also aiding in the removal of toxins. This increased blood flow can alleviate some hangover symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches.
  • Easing muscle tension. A hangover often leaves us with muscle aches, and showers can lift some of the tension.
  • Vagus nerve stimulation. The vagus nerve plays a key role in the body's autonomic nervous system, which controls functions like heart rate and digestion. Stimulating it can lower heart rate and calm the anxiety that often makes a hangover even more unpleasant.
  • Reducing stomach discomfort. Do showers help with nausea? Not directly, but using a shower to regulate our body temperature has benefits (sometimes nausea feels worse if we are in an environment that’s too hot or too cold). Plus, nice-smelling soaps and body wash could provide some relief as well. 
  • Boosted mood. Last but not least, there’s something about that fresh-out-of-the shower feeling that leaves us feeling refreshed and a bit more ready to face the day.
Why Do Showers Make You Feel Better

Cold vs. Hot

So, if taking a shower can indeed ease some hangover symptoms, are certain temperatures more effective than others? For example, do cold showers help hangovers the most? And do hot showers help with headaches in particular?

The cold vs. hot debate mostly comes down to personal preference, but there’s some scientific evidence for both. Let’s explore it in more detail!

Do Cold Showers Help Hangovers?

When we think of showers as a hangover remedy, we often think of cold ones. 

  • Cold showers “surprise” our body systems. The result? An increase in alertness and heart rate that can help with fatigue (as long as we don’t overdo it, of course).
  • Cold water can reduce inflammation. Studies show that cold temperature literally turns down the heat of inflammation caused by alcohol and its aftereffects.
  • Cold acts as a natural pain remedy. Stepping into a cold shower isn’t always fun, but it can work as a full-body ice pack, which is great for reducing muscle aches.
  • Cold showers are especially effective at improving blood circulation. Studies show that cold water causes blood vessels to constrict — a process known as vasoconstriction — which decreases blood flow to the surface of the body. In response, the body works harder to maintain its core temperature, which in turn increases overall circulation. Improved circulation aids the body’s natural detoxification process by getting rid of the byproducts of alcohol metabolism (including acetaldehyde).

Use caution: cold water increases the risk of hypothermia. This hangover remedy is definitely not for everyone! Listen to your body, and get out when you start to feel too cold.

Additional Hangover Tips

Even if it helps a little, a shower by itself — hot or cold — won’t cure a hangover. Here are some proven ways to ease hangover symptoms:

  • Water. That’s right! One of the best hangover cures is to drink water, not just stand under it. Many hangover symptoms come from the loss of electrolytes due to dehydration, so carrying a water bottle (ideally mixed with an electrolyte powder such as Liquid IV) can make a big difference.
  • Rest. One of the best ways to recover from a hangover is to take it easy. You’ll start feeling better in a few hours, and symptoms should fade away by about the 24-hour mark.
  • Light food. While the thought of food might be unappealing, try eating something easy-to-digest (such as avocado toast, oatmeal, yogurt, or a smoothie). Just make sure to stay away from anything too greasy or loaded with sugar, as these foods can worsen nausea and exacerbate the blood sugar fluctuations caused by alcohol.
  • Gentle movement. Like food, exercise might be far from your mind. However, some light movement (like yoga or a walk) can help get your blood flowing.
  • Medication. For headaches or muscle pain, try some ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or aspirin. It’s best to stay away from acetaminophen (Tylenol), however. Like alcohol, acetaminophen is also processed by the liver and can cause it to become overwhelmed. 

Armed with these tips, you can get through a hangover a bit more comfortably. While they’re not an instant fix, they can take the edge off the discomfort (especially as the hangover peaks).

Tips for Avoiding Hangovers

Finally, here are some tips for avoiding hangovers in the first place.

  • Eat before drinking. Eating a nutritious meal before you drink will help your body absorb alcohol more slowly, softening the effects that ultimately lead to hangovers.
  • Alternate drinks with water. This will help you pace yourself and ensure you’re staying hydrated.
  • Stay away from congeners and sulfites. These compounds are found naturally in red wines, bourbon, and other dark liquors as a byproduct of the production process. They are known to make hangovers worse and contribute to headaches in particular.
  • Try taking vitamin B6. A Science article suggests that taking a vitamin B6 supplement while you’re drinking (or right before) could make a difference. Vitamin B6 is also found in poultry, fish, chickpeas, bananas, potatoes, and fortified cereals.
  • Moderate your intake. The best solution is to try being more mindful of your intake. Set a limit before you start and try not to exceed it. Tracking your drinks (with apps such as Reframe) can be a great way to get an idea of your overall patterns. Gathering information (without judgment) allows you to make concrete plans and decisions that are right for you.

By following these and practicing mindful drinking, we can avoid the not-so-fun aftermath of a night of heavy drinking.

Summing Up

All in all, it’s important to remember that a hangover is temporary. After it passes, try to consider it a learning experience. Don’t judge yourself (it happens to many of us!), but see it as an opportunity to reassess your relationship with alcohol. If you’re curious about what life with less alcohol would be like, consider trying a month-long challenge, such as Dry January or Sober October. That said, there’s absolutely no need to wait until then — it’s never the “wrong” time to be sober-curious, and Reframe is here to cheer you on along the way!

Summary FAQs

1. Does a shower help cure a hangover?

While a shower can’t cure a hangover by itself, it can help with some symptoms, such as headaches, muscle tension, and circulation. 

2. Cold showers or hot showers: which is better for hangovers?

The effectiveness of cold vs. hot showers for hangovers comes down to personal preference and specific symptoms. Cold showers can increase alertness and reduce inflammation, while hot showers can ease headaches and muscle stiffness. Both can improve circulation in different ways.

3. What are some other ways to ease hangover symptoms?

Stay hydrated with water and electrolytes, rest, eat light and easy-to-digest foods, engage in some gentle movement, and take ibuprofen for pain relief.

4. How can hangovers be avoided?

You can prevent hangovers by eating before drinking, alternating alcoholic drinks with water, avoiding drinks high in congeners and sulfites, considering a vitamin B6 supplement, and being mindful of overall alcohol intake.

Ready To Change Your Relationship With Alcohol? Reframe Can Help!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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