Activated Charcoal Pills for Hangovers: Benefit or Bunk?

Written by Dr. Jason Burke on March 05, 2019

activated charcoal cocktails

There are as many hangover “cures” available as there are alcoholic drinks to imbibe. During my years of medical training and practice as a hangover expert, I have seen hundreds of tricks to prevent and eliminate hangovers. Some of these remedies are effective and science-based – like IV infusion, while others may as well contain eye of newt and lizard tails for as much good as they do.

One hangover treatment, however, has just enough science backing it to lend some credibility while still managing to be completely ineffective. This treatment is activated charcoal tablets. Below, I’ll tell you why activated charcoal pills are useless for hangover prevention, although the concept sounds promising.

What is Activated Charcoal?

Activated charcoal is similar to the charcoal you would use in a grill to cook hamburgers or hotdogs. It is almost pure carbon, but activated charcoal has been processed to provide it with many tiny pores. These pores increase the surface area of the charcoal, making it ideal for adsorption or adhering to substances.

I can tell you that activated charcoal has legitimate medical uses. Emergency physicians administer it often to treat cases of accidental poisoning or overdoses. The charcoal will bind to the poison or drugs, which prevents them from entering the bloodstream and renders them harmless until they pass out of the digestive tract.

Why Doesn’t Activated Charcoal Work for Alcohol?

Alcohol is one of the very few substances that is absorbed in the stomach rather than further on in the small intestine. In other words, alcohol begins to enter the bloodstream barely an hour after ingestion. So, the window of time for activated charcoal to adsorb alcohol would be quite small.

Activated charcoal tablets usually instruct users to take the tablets before drinking. But if the tablets did work as intended, they would adsorb the alcohol in the stomach, before it enters the blood. Sure, users would not suffer a hangover, but they also wouldn’t feel any of the alcohol’s effects. This would be the same as spitting out the drink before you swallow it. Why even bother to drink at all?

spoonful of activated charcoal powder

Plus, as stated in this New York Magazine article, it is questionable whether activated charcoal even adsorbs significant amounts of alcohol. For this reason, administration of activated charcoal is not a standard treatment in alcohol poisoning cases. That’s right – emergency medical personnel don’t use activated charcoal to treat alcohol “overdoses,” so why would activated charcoal prevent a hangover? It won’t.

If you want to know more, here is a good summation of the outdated science behind claims of charcoal “hangover” pills.

Stick to Proven Cures

Dehydration is a huge part of the cause of hangover symptoms. Using IV hydration and intravenous medications to fight headaches and nausea are the most tried and true methods of combatting a hangover.  Additionally, certain vitamin injections or infusions can help with fatigue and “brain fog” from a hangover. I’ve seen these treatments work firsthand for thousands of hangover patients.

In summary, leave the activated charcoal to the emergency room docs, and get real, effective treatment for your hangover from my team at Hangover Heaven IV Hydration®.

 

 

About Dr. Jason Burke

Dr. Jason Burke is the founder of Hangover Heaven and the world's foremost Hangover Doctor! Read more about Dr. Burke.

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