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IV Lounges Want to Cure Hangovers, but at What Cost?

Carrying offerings named “Jet Lag Eraser,” “Hydrofix,” and “Epic Hangover Recovery,” concierge intravenous (IV) lounges are popping up in cities around the country and offer bold promises for consumers looking for a quick fix from a hangover, jet lag, or someone looking for a beauty boost, or to build their resistance against colds or flu.

Patrons receive fluids, such as vitamins and/or anti-nausea medications via IV injection. The claim is that the fluids drip directly into the bloodstream, which take effect faster than taking pills or drinking water or an electrolyte beverage. Rihanna, Cindy Crawford, and Simon Cowell have all reportedly tried them, and recently, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills personality Lisa Rinna reportedly tossed her bag of vitamins and medications and embraced IV treatment, saying it accommodates her “busy” schedule.

As these services grow and attempt to become more mainstream, concerns among the medical community abound about their safety and effectiveness, particularly given that most of these services and products are unregulated, much like the supplement industry. Costs for services provided by walk-in “clinics” or via house call range from roughly $80 to $875 per visit. Companies claim the process can deliver hydration, a quicker hangover recovery, an immunity boost, energy, and even anti-aging effects in less than an hour. But Richard F. Demers, RPh, MS, FASHP, the chief administrative officer of Ambulatory Pharmacy Services, is not sold on these bold promises.

“You wouldn’t want to say, ‘this place is [available], so I’m going to go out and spend multiple nights drinking, or multiple sleepless nights and use these services on a regular basis,’” said Demers. “That can be very dangerous for your system. It’s possible that one of these places could help once – but it’s only possible, not probable.”

Much of Demers’ concern surrounds those staffing the operations.

“Ideally, there should be doctors and nurses there to make sure if something were to go wrong, there is appropriate care and the infrastructure to respond effectively,” Demers said. “Even in the best clinical environment, any time you put an IV into someone, you open them up for possible infection or for other things to possibly go wrong. This is not something medical practitioners do for frivolous requests.”

Demers adds that part of the feeling some get from using these services is likely the simple placebo effect of believing you’re doing something to make yourself feel better. Anecdotal accounts suggest some people have found relief, but limited research on the effectiveness of these injectable therapies exists. For example, two studies tested IV vitamin use in fibromyalgia patients – one showed no improvement and the other, which tested a group of only seven patients, reported only short-term relief. Neither study had a placebo group.

The origins of these lounges is built on the “Myers Cocktail” – an IV formula of magnesium, calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin C developed over a decade ago following the research of a Baltimore physician named John Myers, MD. In a 2002 review, Alan R. Gaby, MD, a past president of the American Holistic Medical Association, claimed that the concoction is effective against acute asthma attacks, migraines, fatigue, and other conditions. Today’s lounges offer broader services, such as selections like “vitamin treats… that dig deeper, providing proven solutions that recharge, relieve, and revitalize your mind and body.”  

In some cases, though, clinicians say these IV lounges fail to address the real root of a problem.

David Aizenberg, MD, an associate professor of Internal Medicine, said in a TIME article that there is no perfect hangover cure. “Nothing treats the entire hangover,” Aizenberg said. “There is no ‘magic cure’ where one remedy will get rid of every single hangover symptom.”

“Dehydration is not the basis for a hangover, but rather it is the toxic metabolites of alcohol that are responsible,” said Stanley Goldfarb, MD, a professor of Renal Electrolyte and Hypertension. “It is unlikely that they will be excreted in the urine more rapidly with intravenous fluid; they are filtered very effectively by the kidney as long as an individual is not so ill that their blood pressure is low.”

Goldfarb added that if users are acutely alcohol poisoned and develop diarrhea and vomiting, then IV fluids delivered in a proper medical environment, may help. However, “The idea that someone who has not been vomiting a great deal or who has not had severe diarrhea has become significantly depleted of much of any minerals after alcohol ingestion is pretty silly, but does explain the prices that these services are charging for replacing substances that aren’t really missing.”

Encouraging alcohol toxicity by developing a “cure” is arguably unethical, Goldfarb adds, which could partly explain why such limited research exists in this area.  

“If you drink, just drink in moderation,” Goldfarb said. “It really isn’t that complicated.” 

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