Stayin' Alive: Hangover myths unveiled

by Jilian Gundling | 11/30/07 3:02am

For many of the socially-inclined, hangovers are a fact of life. The bigger the night, the more likely you are going to be curled in a fetal position the next day, swearing to yourself that you will never drink again -- or at least not until Wednesday.

To ease the pain of hangovers, it is necessary to separate the facts from the myths. Is it really helpful to take some hair from the dog that bit you or are you just deepening the bite wound? I talked with Brian Bowden, Coordinator of the Alcohol and Other Drugs Education at Dick's House (and this Mirror's favorite member of the Dartmouth community), over BlitzMail to uncover the validity of this and other hangover myths.

Drinking a beer the next morning helps.

False: "Alcohol is a depressant which has a numbing effect on the nervous system. So if one consumes alcohol in an attempt to decrease symptoms of acute alcohol intoxication, then one numbs those symptoms. Eventually the body will need to recover from the effects of acute intoxication -- so, by drinking alcohol the next morning it would only postpone the negative symptoms."

Red wine gives you worse head hangovers than other kinds of alcohol.

False: "All alcoholic beverages have cogeners (chemical byproducts) that are a result of the fermentation process. These cogeners can affect individual[s] in different ways. Some people may have a negative reaction (nausea, headache) to one or more cogeners as compared to someone else. So, this depends on the individual and the cogener."

Colorless alcohol makes you less hungover.

True: "Multiple distillations of an alcoholic beverage helps to decrease cogeners. The fewer the cogeners a beverage has might result in fewer cogener-related symptoms depending on how sensitive a person is to that cogener."

Tylenol is safe to have before drinking and during hangovers.

False: "Tylenol is metabolized in the liver the same as alcohol and absolutely should not be taken before, during or after drinking alcohol."

Women get drunk more easily than men.

True: "This depends on a number of factors; however, generally speaking a female who is identical to a male except for gender (age, weight, environment, heredity) would have a higher BAC level if ingesting the same amount of alcohol within the same context. This has been attributed to studies indicating that women have fewer enzymes (alcohol dehydrogenase) to metabolize alcohol out of the system when compared to their male counterparts.

"Other studies also indicate that men have more water dispersed in their system as compared to their female counterparts. Thus, the greater dispersion of alcohol in water results in lower BAC levels."

Sleeping late the next morning helps with hangovers.

Kind of true and kind of false: "The term hangover is used to describe a multitude of symptoms resulting from acute alcohol poisoning. Dehydration, glucose depletion, sleep deprivation, aches, pains, nausea and sensitivity to light and sound are common examples. Depending on the quantity of alcohol one has ingested, sleeping may be life-threatening. One's BAC level continues to rise slowly as alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. During an unconscious state, such as sleep, the body continues to metabolize residual alcohol. Eventually, one's BAC level will peak and begin to decrease. If one becomes unconscious before one's BAC level peaks and BAC rises to or above 0.30, involuntary muscle movement such as respiration and heart rhythm may stop or be interrupted resulting in death."

Asians get worse hangovers than Caucasians.

False: "Alcohol is a poison and some studies indicate that heredity has influence on tolerance to that poison. So those who have a family history of a lack of exposure to consumption of alcohol would have a lower tolerance and be more susceptible to symptoms of acute intoxication. This is not specific to any one race."