Here’s Why There Will Probably Never Be a Hangover Prevention Pill

If it was easily doable, someone would have invented it already

Photo: Neil Guegan/Corbis

There's no escaping the repercussions of a particularly hard night out on the town. Often, drinkers who wake with a throbbing headache will swear, "Never again." But will power is a flimsy thing. Wouldn't it be better to just have a pill to prevent hangovers? 

Sure, in theory. But creating a hangover prevention pill is a deceptively difficult task. As Francie Diep writes for Popular Science, if it were easy, someone would have already done it. 

The difficulty in preventing hangovers is connected to a chemical compound called acetaldehyde, Diep explains. Acetaldehyde comes from the ethanol in alcohol, and researchers think that, when too much builds up in the body, it causes the negative symptoms that we associate with hangovers.

But aldehyde dehydrogenase, the enzyme in charge of breaking acetaldehyde down, can only handle so much work at once. The key to hangover prevention would be to create a pill that somehow produced or stimulated extra aldehyde dehydrogenase. Here's Diep with why that's such a difficult task, though: 

Aldehyde dehydrogenase, on the hand, works in the mitochondria—tiny, specialized structures—inside the cells of the liver. If I were to swallow a lot of aldehyde dehydrogenase, it would get digested before it ever reached my liver's mitochondria.

Even if I could hustle aldehyde dehydrogenase intact into my liver, it's difficult to deliver enzymes into cells. "They're big. They're too big to get into cells," [physician Robert] Swift says.

And, as Diep points out, scientists haven't figured out how to just kick aldehyde dehydrogenase into overdrive. So for now—and probably well into the future—the only prevention for a hangover is a bit of restraint. 

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