Alcohol: It's enough to make your head ache

by Bill Ralston / 27 December, 2012
Why do some people seem immune to the effects of hitting the bottle?
“This is fantastic! I don’t know what’s smaller? The talk or the food?” /cartoon by Steve Bolton.


At the risk of raising the New Year ire of those readers who insist I write too often about the demon drink, it is my public duty to pass on some timely information I recently discovered.

Between 25% and 30% of people may, in fact, be physically resistant to hangovers. This is useful information for those of us who have overindulged, then been irritated to find some fellow revellers as perky as hell the next day while we wandered about with a mouthful of parrot droppings and a head that felt as if it had been cleaved in two.

A Boston University study managed to get 172 people drunk, then analysed how they felt the next morning. Actually, it wasn’t that hard for the scientists to achieve this. Fifty-four of the trial subjects were sailors and the other 118 were students – both groups not exactly unknown for their propensity for hitting the bottle on occasions.

The study found 76% of subjects reported feeling like death the next day. The type of alcohol ingested and the personal characteristics of the subjects made no difference to the result. The conclusion is some lucky folk are just naturally resistant to hangovers. Which isn’t much comfort to those of us who over-imbibe once in a while and find ourselves stricken the next day. In fact, I found a doctor online on the Guardian website who had unhelpfully suggested there was no such thing as a hangover cure; no hair of any dog works, no granny’s remedy. Nothing.

Well, that’s according to the British Medical Journal, which did its own trials and found “no compelling evidence exists to suggest any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover”. It came up with the useless conclusion that “the most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol-induced hangover is to practise abstinence or moderation”. If we could practise moderation on every occasion, we wouldn’t be in the position of needing a hangover cure, for heaven’s sake.

The doctor’s handiest hint was to drink gin or vodka because they contain ethanol rather than the byproducts of fermentation that you find in, say, red wine or whisky, and so they produce fewer hangovers. Notice the word “fewer”; it’s no guarantee.

Medication is no use – and positively harmful. Doctors warn paracetamol will further harm your liver and aspirin will mess with your stomach. The doctor’s best cure on offer was to have a long sleep, then wake up the next day when you feel better. Try that on a hot January day with the sun streaming in; it feels like being baked in a moderate oven.

There it is again, the word “moderate”. Most of us who partake of alcohol would describe ourselves as moderate drinkers, but when you look at what that means, some of us might have to revise our opinion. Most of the texts I’ve read suggest moderate drinking is no more than 3-4 standard drinks in each drinking episode. That doesn’t mean you can divide your day into several different “episodes” and start glugging booze in bursts of 3-4 at a time. That’s cheating.

The experts say no more than about nine drinks a week for women and a dozen or so for men, which is a bit tough on you girls and probably sexist to boot. A standard drink is, by the way, minuscule – a 150ml glass of wine, a 355ml glass of beer and a tiny shot of liquor. I call that “dregs”.

Still, I’m not fretting about my alcohol intake because after 3-4 drinks in an occasional episode I find, as a result of the ageing process, I start to drift off to sleep, neatly averting the danger of becoming drunk, and administering the doctor’s recommended hangover cure in advance.
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