The Cure for the Common Hangover

A Las Vegas doctor treats the sick and needy

Drink too much booze on Saturday night and it doesn’t matter if you have a health insurance plan so comprehensive it even covers distance Reiki healing: The American medical establishment is going to leave you sweaty, trembling, and nauseous on Sunday morning. Oh, sure, you can hit up 7-Eleven for some Hangover Joe’s Recovery Shots . But it’s 2012, the age of bionic eyeballs and facelifts at the mall. While the imprimatur of the Warner Bros. licensing department  lends Hangover Joe’s a certain medical authority, is this product really the best solution that 21st century medical technology can offer us?

Clearly Dr. Jason Burke doesn’t think so. A board-certified anesthesiologist with a medical degree from the University of North Carolina, Dr. Burke is, according to his website, the “first physician in the United States to formally dedicate his career to the treatment of hangovers.”

Earlier this month, he unveiled his new treatment clinic, a 45-foot-long tour bus emblazoned with soothing blue and white graphics and his business’s name, “Hangover Heaven.” Inside the bus, it looks like a cross between an ambulance and a conference room at Embassy Suites. IV drips hang from the ceiling, patients are swathed in blankets, but there are also spacious leather sofas with built-in beverage-holders and flat-screen TVs. EMTs administer relief to patients in the form of branded medical cocktails. The $90 Redemption package contains one bag of saline solution, vitamins, and an anti-nausea medication. The $150 Salvation package includes a double shot of saline solution, the vitamins, the anti-nausea medication and an anti-inflammatory as well.

In his day job as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Burke uses such regimens to treat post-surgery patients suffering from dehydration, nausea, and similar symptoms. Recognizing that they might prove useful in other contexts too, he experimented on himself after a night of revelry. The treatment worked, and soon he was wondering if he’d stumbled into a potential business as well as a cure. At first, he considered establishing a traditional office but ultimately decided the costs associated with that were prohibitive. “Being that this was a somewhat unique business idea, I didn’t want to be on the hook for a five-year lease if the thing tanked,” he says. So he decided to go mobile, purchasing a tour bus that already had most of the accommodations he needed. “This way, if it doesn’t work out, I can sell the bus.”

But if the risks of blazing new medical ground are high, so are the potential rewards. According to a study published in the November 2011 edition of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM), excessive alcohol consumption resulted in economic losses of approximately $223 billion in 2006. Moreover, the study elaborated, $74.1 billion of those losses resulted from impaired workplace productivity. Another $4.2 billion in losses resulted from workplace absenteeism. With so much money at stake, you’d think there’d be more efforts to find effective treatments. And yet because of the other costs associated with excessive alcohol consumption—in the AJPM’s estimation, it leads to 79,000 premature deaths a year and generates approximately $45 billion a year in healthcare and criminal justice costs—many medical practitioners believe hangovers function as nature’s own aversion therapy, a useful deterrent and punishment that discourages subsequent alcohol consumption. In the opinion of some researchers, a 2004 New York Times article reported , even just studying the efficacy of hangover cures “raises ethical issues.”

And yet what would happen if this prohibitionist mindset were applied across the entire spectrum of medical treatment? Should liposuction and bypass surgery be off-limits to anyone who ever ate a donut? Should ultra-marathoners have access to Ibuprofen?

In Las Vegas, the prospect of eliminating hangovers—and the productivity declines that come with them—is particularly compelling. While $20 cocktails are a major part of the city’s lifeblood, the fuel that keeps roulette wheels spinning and wedding chapels open around the clock, they also exact an economic toll. A tourist who spends all day in his hotel room, popping Excedrin and dry-heaving to Dr. Phil, is a tourist who isn’t staring slack-jawed at Criss Angel’s illusions or piloting race cars at Richard Petty’s NASCAR fantasy camp . “If you’re only here for three days, and you’re hungover one day, that’s a third of your trip that just went poof,” Dr. Burke says. “This service is all about getting people back to enjoying their vacation.”

Then there are the legions of radiologists, sportswear retailers, and adult video producers who converge on the city each year for trade shows. For them, a day lost to hangover recovery could mean a squandered networking opportunity, a missed deal, career sabotage. “There was a group of seven that came on our first weekend,” Dr. Burke says. “They were here for an oil and gas conference, and they

just brought their whole sales team on the bus. We treated them all so they could make it back to their conference.”

The Hangover Heaven treatments take about 45 minutes and Dr. Burke says that so far about 95 percent of his patients report feeling significantly better afterward—a few recent customers felt so good, in fact, that they went straight from the bus to the thrill rides at the Stratosphere Tower.

Still, these cures have their limits. They can’t undo a DUI. They can’t erase a facial tattoo. And as the Hangover Heaven website disclaims, the service isn’t intended for emergencies or serious medical conditions resulting from alcohol or long-term alcohol abuse. In addition, a semi-exclusive door policy is in effect. “We don’t just fire IVs and medicines into anybody that shows up,” Dr. Burke says. “This is a real medical practice. We don’t treat intoxicated people. We take a medical history and a consent. If people have complicating medical conditions, like diabetes or high blood pressure, we don’t treat them.”

Hangover Heaven also doesn’t take insurance. That means it’s that relatively rare medical practice where consumers pay directly for the services they desire. And because profit margins are thin, Hangover Heaven won’t prosper unless the bulk of its customers find the service effective, safe, and a good value. To ensure that they do, it’s more consumer-oriented than many medical businesses, emphasizing convenience, transparent pricing, and a commitment to improving the customer’s experience. For example, because some potential customers are wary of IVs, Dr. Burke’s exploring the feasibility of offering oral treatments. In addition, he’s thinking about converting the bus’s engine.

“I’m going to try to get the bus to run on biodiesel so that it smells like bacon,” he says. No doubt some nay-sayers will question the heart-healthiness of this move, but to Las Vegas visitors looking for the most pleasant recovery process possible, such touches no doubt bear the unmistakable scent of progress.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato writes from San Francisco.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    The best and only way to guarantee you don't have a hangover in my experience is to chug a few glasses of water before you go to bed.

  • Barfman||

    *barf*

  • Zeb||

    There is no way to guarantee that you won't get a hangover (besides not drinking a lot). At least not after you are 30.

  • Nicholas Card||

    I don't know about that. We have narrowed the field of the causes of a hangover, and we have ways of treating all of those. Ensuring that you get enough water to drink goes a long way to fixing a hangover. Also, to add to heller's suggestion, I recommend you also eat an orange (or at least have some orange juice). The citric acid in the orange will help overcome the inhibition of the Citric Acid Cycle caused by the buildup of NADH. Other possible pre-treatments are the consumption of caffeine and/or ibuprofen, but be warned, routinely consuming lots of alcohol and then immediately taking ibuprofen can lead to serious damage of the stomach and intestinal track.

  • Hell's Librarian||

    That's interesting. When recovering from being hungover, I have always CRAVED orange juice.

  • Nicholas Card||

    That might be related to the citric acid cycle, but I wouldn't bet on it.

    More likely it's a simple byproduct of a learned associated between orange juice and health. Because of the sugar and vitamins (specifically Vitamin C), OJ is both healthy and refreshing, and our society has promoted OJ as a great "get well" drink. As a child, you were likely indoctrinated to associate OJ with getting better, because your parents probably gave you OJ when you weren't feeling well. I know that happened with me.

  • el bastardo||

    When I was detoxing off a 1/2 gal a day vodka habit, I was craving oj and milk like mad and drank a gal of both every day for a week...and I don't even like oj or milk.

  • Robert||

    I think that's naive biochemistry. You think you can sop up reduced NAD by providing more of a reactant, citric acid, that otherwise acts catalytically, and you presumably want to make act stoichiometrically? I don't think you're going to affect the overall "turning of the wheel", nor to reduce the buildup of acetaldehyde.

  • ||

    My medical opinion, and experience earlier in life, was to take the advice of a clinical pharmacist who suggested 400mg to 800mg and one Pepcid OTC one to two hours before imbibing. When I was a drinker, it worked. Also what heller said. Stay hydrated but don't get water logged.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    400 to 800 mg of what?

  • ||

    "...400mg to 800mg Ibupofen..."

    FTFM

  • Nicholas Card||

    Whenever I see FTFM, I always think "fuck the fucking monkey!" Don't ask me why, but it's oddly appropriate. Usually, FTFM mistakes are stupid and trivial, so it seems like an appropriate profanity. Just saying...

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The specter of a hangover is the only thing keeping me from getting shitfaced every night. Even more so than the prospect of damaging my single kidney.

  • Coeus||

    damaging my single kidney

    You one of the selfless or one of the unlucky?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Unlucky.

  • Brandon||

    Which is why this business will be regulated out of existence shortly.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I was never a "problem" drinker. At least I didn't have a problem with it. But I did get a brutal hangover about 24 years ago. I felt horrible, and I was too sick to take my kids to the pumpkin patch (it was around halloween). The guilt and misery combined such that I have not been seriously drunk since. Man, I hate hangovers.

    My dad had a serious drinking problem, and he told me he didn't get hangovers. Too bad. They might have saved him and his family a lot of trouble.

  • fried wylie||

    Shutdown and license-revoked in 3...2...1...

  • ||

    Of course. Dr. Burke is doing God's work, therefore he must be shut down. Just like all those medical MJ dispensaries. Like, it's so, like, simple. And stuff.

    *barf*

  • fried wylie||

    No, I meant because he's basically offering nutritional advice.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Aspirin and water before bed. Lot's of water and a cheeseburger and fries the next day.

  • fried wylie||

    go fuck a cheeseburger.

    Pho is the best next-day meal.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    +1 for the Pho. That shit works.

  • AlmightyJB||

    No, you don't fuck the cheeseburger you eat it. You can do whatever you want with your Pho.

  • Gladstone||

    I guess the proles are going to need their Soma soon.

  • Gerholdt||

    And the Orgy Porgy! Ship all the wowsers off to an Island!

  • ||

    I'm surprised a Reason writer would rely on those government statistics on alcohol, given that the official Reason policy vis-a-vis marijuana is that the government are a bunch of no-good liars who will say anything it takes to make weed sound dangerous when actually it is a miracle drug that cures the sick and has absolutely no negative effects whatsoever. It almost gives me hope that Reason might someday acknowledge that just because something should be legal doesn't mean it is good.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    Heller got it right from the git-go. Water is the key.

    And Zeb, I've noticed that I have a lot fewer hangovers as I get older. Maybe I'm just not drinking as much, but I managed to get 'faced at my daughter's wedding a few years back and woke up feeling just fine.

    As they say, YMMV.

    ... Hobbit

  • Coeus||

    I've noticed that I have a lot fewer hangovers as I get older.

    You lucky bastard. It works the opposite way for most of us. I get easier and worse hangovers every year.

  • Wine Commonsewer (TWC)||

    I don't get hangovers (maybe four in forty years), but (with or without drinking) I feel like crap if I don't get enough sleep.

    Still, the wine has calories. The stuff you get at the Green Cross Store doesn't. :-)

  • yonemoto||

    the correct adjective is *nauseated*, not *nauseous*

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Lot woke up in his cave one morning with a wicked hangover. He had trouble remembering what he'd been doing the past couple of days...his only memory was a dim recollection of banging a couple of smokin' hot chicks.

  • Sevo||

    Hey, watch out!
    If Obama hears about this, it'll be added to the treatments included in your new, improved medical insurance! For FREE!

  • A Mathematician||

    Best detox is retox

  • Concerned Citizen||

    After a series of near fatal hangovers I gave the shit up. The buzz isn't worth the hangover, let alone my beer gut. A little weed and I'm good to go. It's nice feeling good every morning.

  • ||

    1) Drink vodka or some other "clear" hard liquor, not Scotch or JD or stuff like that.
    2) Drink a full glass of water and pop a headache pill before going to sleep.
    3) Enjoy a much reduced hangover.

    I know that 2) is hard, but "no pain, no gain".

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

  • Dan Clarke||

    Dr. Jason Burke's contributions are remarkable and “Hangover Heaven” seems a great idea.

  • AM||

    try lime and salt with water it will definitely ease in some way...

  • chicagofarz@gmail.com||

    As an Anesthesiologist I have been providing this same therapy in the LA area for some time now. I have a private following made up of everyone from a few celebrities, to the ultra rich in Malibu, to my doctor friends. Works great for everybody (hangovertherapy.com). Contact me if interested.

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