Hungover me will do just about anything to end my misery. Many times, I’ve considered downing an entire fistful of Advil, ignoring the recommended dose printed on the bottle in the vain hope of ameliorating the pounding behind my eyes. But does Advil actually work that way? Can I just take the maximum safe dose for a 24-hour period all at once?
Turns out: No.
As you’ll remember from squinting at the dosage instructions on the box, one tablet of Advil contains 200 milligrams of the drug. The recommended adult dose is between 200 to 400 milligrams every four to six hours, up to six times per day (for severe pain, your doctor might recommend higher doses, up to 800 milligrams). All of this takes you somewhere in the region of the maximum daily dose, which according to Susan Besser, a primary care physician specializing in family medicine, is 3,200 milligrams.
So what happens when you take this whole daily dose all at once, in hopes of swiftly squashing your hangover?
Nothing good, apparently.
“First, that large of a dose taken at once will definitely cause gastrointestinal irritation,” Besser emphasizes, which is the last thing you want when you’ve already got a gut full of tequila. “Second, ibuprofen (which is generic for Advil) doesn’t work that way. The effectiveness of the medication (or, the half-life) is only about six hours, so it wears off and doesn’t work after that time period. It’s better to space it out throughout the day to get the maximum effectiveness. This, by the way, is true of many medications—so if you’re told to take medication on a schedule, please do. It’s in your best interest to follow the schedule recommended by the package directions (or your doctor).”
But won’t a few extra tablets more effectively pacify my headache, at least until the hangover goes away? “If you’re at the maximum hourly dose and not feeling better, taking more isn’t going to help,” Besser says, firmly. This, she explains, is because exceeding the recommended amount might result in an Advil overdose, the results of which can be temporary symptoms like nausea and vomiting (which, admittedly, may be hard to spot during a hangover).
A true overdose, meanwhile, can cause intestinal bleeding, seizure, coma and even death due to heart attack or stroke. Exactly how much Advil would cause this isn’t well defined: While every doctor and drug manufacturer will tell you that the maximum daily dose is the above-mentioned 3,200 milligrams, one study published in the medical journal Critical Care found that overdose symptoms were unlikely in patients taking less than 100 milligrams per kilo of their body weight.
This represents a massive dose—someone weighing 68 kilograms (about 150 pounds) could theoretically take 34 200-milligram tablets in a 24-hour period, or nearly three times the amount advised on the bottle, before suffering ill effects (which, come on, seems like a bad plan). According to said study, the more serious side effects of an ibuprofen overdose “occur after [more than] 400 mg/kg has been ingested.” So, around 136 tablets in one day.
If your hangover is that bad, put the bottle down and reconsider your entire life.