Why Are All My Hangover Cures Now Adding Alcohol?

This “wellness” booze trend sure is confusing.

alcoholic wellness drink
Image by Grace Han for Thrillist
Image by Grace Han for Thrillist

We all have our go-to hangover cures. In college, chugging yellow Gatorade and taking a long shower did the trick. In my mid-20s, I told myself that a Bloody Mary or mimosa was actually helping, rather than delaying the inevitable. Now, on the really bad days, it takes a combination of ginger ale, coconut water, kombucha, and ibuprofen to make me feel human again.

But a recent trend in the beverage space has me perplexed. So many “wellness” ingredients are now incorporating alcohol into the mix and still calling themselves healthy. There’s the rise in popularity of hard kombucha, beer brands are adding electrolytes, and the CBD-infused spirits market is out of control (once you land on Goop, you know you’ve gone too far). They’ve even tainted my beloved coconut water. What’s next? Powerade pale ale?

“This trend doesn’t surprise me,” says. Dr. Mark Willenbring, psychiatrist and medical director of Alltyr Clinic, who specializes in alcohol and substance abuse. “People are always looking for new ways to sell stuff. Right now things like coconut water and kombucha are all the rage—and wellness in general is big business. But it’s a silly idea from the standpoint of health.”

To be fair, I’m all for bartenders experimenting with healthier ingredients and sneaking them into our cocktails like we’re a kid who needs more broccoli. And abstaining from alcohol whenever you want for whatever reason you want is great (and now there are actually good NA beers and zero-proof spirits to make that easier). But the wellness marketing machine blurring the lines and insinuating that alcoholic drinks can actually be good for you is confusing for consumers at best—and dangerous for them at worst.

“Alcohol is alcohol is alcohol—it doesn’t matter what’s in it,” says Dr. Willenbring. “These drinks are trying to sell something that’s essentially unhealthy and put a healthy veneer on it.”

In other words, there is no amount of turmeric or vitamins that will change the fact that it’s still alcoholic. And conflating it with wellness could make people who have a rollercoaster relationship with booze have an even more complicated one. Plus, it seems like it would just create a net-zero effect. You want to try CBD for better sleep and less anxiety? Adding vodka ain’t gonna help.

This can all likely be traced back to the rise in popularity of things like low-sugar margarita mixes and hard seltzers, a market that was valued at $4.4 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 16.2% from 2020 to 2027. But now those light drinks have morphed into products with misleadingly “healthy” labels.

“People are exploring lighter versions of drinks they like to drink,” says Amie Ward, a bartender and certified health coach, who founded The Healthtender to promote wellness in the service industry. “My health coach hat says the way people are labeling things is inappropriate, but my bartender hat says people want to drink them because they think they’re refreshing and delicious.” 

The taste of these drinks is, of course, subjective but should be an important factor to consider. How does combining elements like charcoal and CBD affect a drink or does alcohol really change the way that kombucha tastes?

“I’ve had canned CBD cocktails that taste pretty good, and then I’ve had CBD spirits that taste like dirty bong water,” Ward says. “But I’ve also tried an alcoholic kombucha that tasted like sherry and was delightful.”

But many of these kinds of drinks, experts warn, shouldn’t be treated the same way you’re treating light beer, for example. Things like charcoal and bacteria in kombucha are meant to be consumed in small doses. And including phrases like “wellness,” “mindfulfulness,” and “better for you” confuse people all the more.

“The waters are getting muddied, one thousand percent,” Ward says. “It’s great to be forthcoming and transparent about what you’re putting into your products, but don’t pretend that alcohol and wellness aren’t completely antithetical.”

But Willenbring admits that the sliver of the population that is interested in both achieving maximum health benefits and draining a six-pack on the regular is a relatively small one. And if you do want to try and be a “healthy drinker,” the solution is pretty simple.

“Drinking as little as possible is kind of the best advice,” Dr. Willenbring continues. “A glass of wine with dinner a couple times a week won’t increase your addiction risk substantially.”

Indeed. If you want to be health-conscious, simply drink less. Wellness companies can’t sprinkle any magic fairy dust into alcohol to make it good for you. And lord knows the last thing we need during a brutal hangover is to pick up a kombucha—only to find out it’s got booze. There would be nothing relaxing or rejuvenating about that.

“If you want to drink something because it’s lighter or lower in alcohol, that is super dope,” Ward says. “But just don’t pretend that’s all you need to practice self-care.”

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Jess Mayhugh is a Cities Editor for Thrillist, who might sound like a grandma, but likes her health drinks on one shelf and her alcohol on another. Follow on Instagram for more hot takes.