A hangover is no picnic. But do you really need an IV “antidote”? Such is the lure of IV clinics, a new health fad. Often operated from roving tour buses, these clinics promise to help you feel better faster not just from hangover but also from jet lag, colds, flu and more. Do their treatments work? Are they safe?
IV clinics (also called IV lounges) are relatively new. In 2012, an anesthesiologist offered intravenous hangover antidotes to vacationers from a tour bus on the Las Vegas strip. Now such clinics exist all over the country as well as in South Africa, Canada and Europe, usually operating from mobile units or bricks-and-mortar storefronts.
The intravenous solutions used in these clinics are standard drips used by health professionals in hospitals. The IV clinics typically vary a solution according to the condition being treated. For instance, Lactated Ringer’s solution—a combination of potassium, sodium and calcium often used in hospitals during surgery or labor or for severe blood loss—might be used for a cold or flu sufferer. The strong painkiller ketorolac and the antinausea drug ondansetron might be added to treat hangover. Other combinations are used to treat jet lag…or for an energy boost after running a marathon. There’s even a weight-loss drip that includes several “fat burners” plus the amino acid–derived compound L-carnitine and promoted as something that can decrease stored fat and build lean muscle.
While priming your body with extra minerals or other nutrients when you’re under the weather might sound like a good idea—or at least not a bad one—there’s no scientific proof that such IV therapy is an effective treatment for any of the conditions for which it is being used…or that it really makes you feel better if you are experiencing a hangover.
For one thing, although drinking alcohol—especially too much of it—is mildly dehydrating, the cotton-mouthed misery you feel the next day is mostly caused by the toxins that build up as your body processes the alcohol. Increasing fluids—whether intravenously or by ingesting them—does not decrease the time it takes to eliminate the toxins from your body.
Similarly, vomiting and diarrhea from flu or associated with acute effects of alcohol can cause you to become dehydrated, and an IV solution might relieve discomfort associated with these effects—but on its own will not relieve your aches and pains. Unless your symptoms are extreme, in which case you should call your doctor or get to an ER, chicken soup and an over-the-counter pain reliever will give you the same relief with fewer risks—and for less money. Treatment at an IV lounge is not cheap at up to $875 per session…nor is it covered by insurance.
Besides the unnecessary expense of this treatment, an important concern regarding these commercial IV clinics is safety. Resembling spas more than medical clinics, these facilities are often run by licensed health-care professionals such as emergency room physicians—but that’s not always the case. In 2015, Florida’s department of health sent cease-and-desist letters to a number of IV clinics in the state that employed EMTs and paramedics who did not have proper licensing for the services they were providing.
IV therapies are considered medical services and must be given only under appropriate licensed medical supervision (which varies by state). Since these IV lounges operate under a retail-type business model and are not regulated, it’s too easy for them to fly under the regulatory radar, potentially exposing users to unsafe practices. For instance…
- A saline solution can be harmful for someone with high blood pressure.
- An improperly inserted IV needle can cause an air embolism and lead to a stroke or heart attack.
- An inappropriate infusion rate can cause heart failure or kidney injury in people with certain underlying conditions.
Elderly people, diabetics and people who are obese and/or have circulatory problems are at especially high risk for complications.
There is also a risk of infection or a clot forming where the needle was inserted…of inflammation of the vein (thrombophlebitis)…and of an infection from the injection site travelling to the heart, causing an infection inside the heart called endocarditis.
Bottom line: Hangovers get better on their own…as does jet lag and most colds and flu. And if you have an illness that is serious enough to warrant an IV drip, you belong at your doctor’s office or at the hospital. Even if the safety concerns wouldn’t deter you, know this: People who claim to feel better after treatment at an IV clinic are most likely experiencing the placebo effect, particularly if they need to justify to themselves having spent a large chunk of cash. By the time you’ve completed the three or four hours a treatment takes and forked over your money, you’re that much closer to the recovery that was going to happen anyway.