Pick your poison carefully: All hangovers are not created equal

THE WORKING POUR

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File photo. File photo.

If you are reading this on New Year’s Day, then chances are that even your own inner reading voice is hurting your head. My husband was born on the first of the year and never got to have birthday parties on his actual birthday, because, oddly, every single one of his friends’ parents (and his own) weren’t feeling well.

Hangovers and New Year’s Day go together like rum and Coke, tequila and lime, Kahlua and cream—oh, sorry, is this making you queasy? Well, it might be too late to pull you from the brink of death, but ever wonder why some nights you can tie one on and wake up feeling fine and other times like you’ve been trampled by a herd of Clydesdales?

We all know that dehydration is the cause of a hangover (actually, drinking alcohol in excess is, but you don’t need a lecture when you feel this lousy). Alcohol’s a diuretic and every time you urinate, your organs’ become thirstier and thirstier, and a thirsty brain responds by banging on your skull like a gorilla in a cage. Consuming water throughout your night certainly helps your cause, but it turns out that certain types of alcohol cause worse hangovers.

Congeners, toxic chemicals produced during fermentation and aging, are the biggest culprit. They wreak havoc on our nervous systems while our livers metabolize the alcohol. They come in varying concentrations depending on an alcohol’s distillation process. Every time a liquor is distilled, it loses more congeners. Generally speaking, dark liquors like bourbon, brandy, whiskey, tequila, and red wine contain more congeners than clear liquors like vodka, gin, and white wines. Bourbon, for example, has 37 times the amount of congeners that vodka has.

Though they are considered impurities, congeners are a large part of what give dark liquors their color, aroma, and flavor and why clear liquors are virtually flavorless. You can pretty much bank on the fact that plastic handles of booze (no matter the color) haven’t been distilled as many times as the top-shelf bottles, so the next time you are tempted to save a dollar, remember that cheap drinks come with consequences.

Of course, red wine hangovers can be fierce, no matter whether it’s DRC or Two Buck Chuck. Red wine contains a high level of congeners, but there’s more at play. Sulfites, too often the blame for headaches after red wine consumption, are actually a problem for less than 1 percent of the population. Histamines, tannins, prostaglandins, and tyramine have all been identified as potential contributors to why mornings after a red wine binge are uglier than those after a night spent drinking white, but the specifics would make anyone’s head ache.

You can’t go by congeners alone though. A bottle of Bud contains six times more congeners than a Long Island iced tea, yet only a fraction of the alcohol, so two Buds are going to go over a lot more comfortably in the morning than two Long Island iced teas. And certainly, mixing liquors into one drink (or through the course of an evening) is the fastest route to Nauseatown. Then throw a bunch of sugar in there too, so that your blood sugar spikes when you are invincible, tearing up the dance floor and then comes crashing down when you are defeated, lying on the bathroom floor.

So what to do after you’ve hit the bottle too hard? Even if you didn’t intersperse units of water with units of alcohol during your debauchery, try to drink 16 to 20 ounces before going to sleep. In the morning, as tempting as coffee or a “hair of the dog” may sound, skip it until you are feeling human again—they’ll just dehydrate you more. Take ibuprofen or aspirin over acetaminophen (your liver’s already working overtime), eat some carbs, and go back to sleep.

Somehow through modern research, hangovers have been estimated to cost the United States $148 billion in lost productivity each year. Imagine how high that number would be if we were required to work—or plan or attend birthday parties—on New Year’s Day. Way to start 2013 off with a bang! Shhh, keep your voice down.

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