Where New Year’s Eve goes south for many revelers is along the body chemistry Mason/Dixon line separating a festive night and a brain-thumping morning. A study from China’s Sun Yat-Sen University in 2013 spawned legend that Sprite soda could ease that hangover. The lemon-lime soft drink’s curative properties reportedly stem from the soda’s impact on the breakdown of one of the byproducts of the metabolism of alcohol blamed for the head-splitting headache and nausea the morning after a bender. Pear juice or Pedialyte are rolled out as crackpot cures or prophylactics for hangovers. None of the tweaks and tricks have been clinical basis, yet they live on in mythology alongside unicorns and Bigfoot sightings.
Hangovers are serious business because of what alcohol does to the central nervous system, digestive tract, physical, financial, mental and marital health. Plenty of myths and urban legends may make the condition worse, not better because they assume a hangover is perfectly normal. Here are seven common bourbon legends.
Myth: ‘Beer before liquor, never sicker’
Fact: Having three beers before two shots of tequila or two shots before three beers still adds up to five drinks. The stomach and small intestine are responsible for absorbing the alcohol and make no distinction. The liver metabolizes all alcohol at the same rate.
Myth: Eating pasta before bed, popping pain relievers and downing coffee will ease the symptoms.
Fact: Eating before bed only widens the waistline. Eating something heavy before drinking can slow absorption of the alcohol and potentially help in avoiding the hangover. Popping acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol) while or after drinking can permanently damage the liver. Drinking coffee only makes a wide-awake drunk. The main stress on the body immediately following a night of too much drinking is dehydration. Alcohol displaces the water in your body. To feel better faster, drink more water throughout the night – alternating between water and the booze – and drink water throughout the next day.
Myth: Hangovers are for binge drinkers and men.
Fact: Men have a higher percentage of water in their bodies, therefore more water to displace. A man and woman drinking the same amount, even if they were close to the same size, would result in the woman having more alcohol in the bloodstream and a bigger hangover. Any person can have a hangover after just a couple of drinks, especially if they don’t drink often.
Myth: Wine and diet drinks are best for avoiding a hangover.
Fact: Wine – especially red wine – is actually worse than vodka, gin or other clearer drinks. Red wines contain tannins, which can turn a bad headache into an all-dayer. Diet drinks help cut some of the calories, but alcohol has enough on its own: Whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, tequila, etc. contain 97 calories per shot (1.5 oz.) of 80 proof, 100 proof has 124 calories. A 2013 study appearing in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (see corresponding article) also determined that diet sodas increase blood alcohol concentration (BAC) because of how the stomach processes the artificial sweeteners. The natural sugars in some fruit juices make for a better mixer for avoiding hangovers, but cost more in calories obviously.
Myth: Vomiting at the end of the night will make a better morning.
Fact: Too late. Throwing up only empties the stomach. Alcohol is absorbed very quickly by the stomach and small intestine linings, which may have already begun to speed the alcohol to the bloodstream well before the finger-in-the-throat trick. The alcohol in the bloodstream is broken down into acetaldehyde, then vinegar, then water and carbon dioxide. It takes hours. Once absorbed into the blood, you can’t rid your body of the alcohol until the final byproducts: water and CO2. It’s the acetaldehyde that causes much of the unpleasantness of the hangover.
Myth: Alcohol will help sleep off the hangover.
Fact: Alcohol blocks or interferes with rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, so the quality of sleep suffers. There’s a big difference between waking up and coming to. Also, a body works overtime to process the toxic alcohol during sleep, and sleep will not be restful with the liver working that hard. Sleep studies in the April 2013 Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research confirm that alcohol – a sedative – does help a person fall asleep but leads to increased tiredness the following day.
Myth: ‘Hair of the Dog’ fixes everything.
Fact: Morning drinking is a sign of alcohol abuse and the disease of alcoholism. More alcohol never helped anyone. It only postpones the hangover, which has its worst symptoms when the BAC reaches .00. The body can process about one drink (wine, shot, beer or mixed drink) per hour. If you had six glasses of wine at midnight, your BAC would hit .00 about six a.m. If you had six shots from six p.m. to midnight, your BAC would hit .00 around two a.m. If you had more, you’re going to feel worse later, once the BAC hits bottom. Many drinking and driving arrests – 20 percent of the ones in the UK – happen the morning after because the body still hasn’t processed all the alcohol from the night before.
For people concerned about their drinking and the aftermath of poisoning with a toxin (aka, hangovers) the CAGE self-test is a reliable indicator:
Have you ever felt you should Cut back on your drinking?
Have people Annoyed you about your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had an Eye-opener drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
A score of just two yes answers suggests a significant risk of problem drinking that should be discussed with a doctor. A more thorough test can be found at www.alcohologist.com.
The cure for hangovers? The only thing that works is time… or just not drinking.