Alcohol and hangovers

The joy of a great night can be accompanied by hangovers of both moral and physiological character. The morning after, you may regret the day or night before. For this reason, it might be a good idea to prevent things from going out of hand.

The phenomenon is transient but all too familiar: A splitting headache, a bad taste in your mouth, thirst, nausea, an upset stomach, sleepiness, irritability, and a hypersensitivity towards noise which can be the inspiration of many jokes.

This highly unpleasant condition often sets in like Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, the morning after an evening where Bacchus, the god of wine and joy, has been given priority with "wine, women (or men), and song". The so-called hangover and other feelings of unease appear when your blood alcohol level approaches zero, and these physical side effects can take several days to ebb away. One would imagine that being so terribly hung over would prevent many people from drinking again, but in this respect memory is surprisingly short.

Delirium tremens (DTs)
Severe alcoholics who stop drinking will suffer severe withdrawal symptoms. Their nerve cells become accustomed to large daily doses of alcohol and their metabolism undergoes crisis when the supply of alcohol comes to a halt. The most severe cases are called delirium tremens, or DTs. They can last from a couple of days and up to a week. The period is initiated by restlessness, disturbed sleep, and irritability and can be succeeded by severe hallucinations. This is the period where the well-known rats and pink elephants appear. However, if the person is given alcohol at this stage, symptoms will disappear.

Alcohol is chemically related to sugar and it is produced when yeast fungi transform the sugar from, for example, fruit. Even though alcohol is a neurotoxin, it has some beneficial effects as well; so long as the dose is not too high. Not even the yeast fungi that produce the alcohol can tolerate high doses of it, they die from alcohol poisoning when the surrounding alcohol level reaches 13%. Just like grape sugar, alcohol is instantly absorbed by the body and transformed into acetaldehyde and later to acetic acid. The alcohol and its transition products are responsible for extensive harmful effects in the entire body.
Alcohol dilates the cerebral vessels and is also responsible for both acidifying and drying up the cellular environment because it also has diuretic effects.

Small amounts of alcohol reduce inhibitions and increase self-confidence and sense of well-being. Speach becomes more flowing and mood changes - most often for the better. As the consumption of alcohol increases, so does the mood because the brain's content of the signaling substances serotonin and dopamine are increased. However, as more and more brain cells are paralyzed your memory becomes disconnected. In many situations, we can function while under the influence, only slower. When it comes to love-making and driving, function is also impaired.

Hypersensitivity and nuisance
The strength of alcohol is measured in percentages. Whisky, for example, consists of 40% alcohol and 60% water with various flavorings; from the cereal used in the production, from the maturation on oak wood, and from the distillation process. Red wine is also more than just fermented grape juice. It contains a necessary but varying amount of sulphur used in the preservation. In some people, a strong headache trigger is the tyramine content of red wine. Tyramine can also be found in cheese and it can elevate the blood pressure and cause a headache similar to migraine.

When it comes to hangovers or reactions to alcoholic beverages, not only alcohol is responsible for the accompanying headache and unease, but also by-products as the ones mentioned above. Often, however, people who are hypersensitive or allergic will find an alcoholic beverage of some kind that will not cause these problems. Some people can drink certain kinds of red wine without any accompanying symptoms while other kinds of red wine - most often cheap kinds - cannot be tolerated. When it comes to strong alcoholic liquors, vodka belongs to the group of beverages with the fewest headache triggering substances.

Genetic differences are also believed to play a role as to how well we tolerate alcohol. Some people are metabolize acetaldehyde slower than others and this causes hangovers of increased severity and duration.

Alcohol and percentages
A person's alcohol consumption is measured in percentages; we know this from the Road Traffic Act. Already at blood alcohol concentrations (BAC) of 0.02%, a measurable reduction in people's reactivity can be observed. The greatest sense of well-being when consuming alcohol seems to be at a BAC of 0,06%. Many European countries have an upper BAC limit of 0.05%; however in Britain it is still 0.1%. At this level, we will be presentably drunk with pronounced postural instability, reduced ability to concentrate, and great well-being. We know from experience that BACs of more than 0.1% drastically reduce the odds of a successful party. The last shred of self-control typically disappears at a BAC of 0.2%. There are examples of people who normally do not drink having died from a BAC of 0.25; contrarily, there are also examples of people having survived BACs of more than four times this level with rapid treatment.

For practical purposes, we calculate the number of units of alcohol as a standard unit of measurement. One unit of alcohol is about the amount of alcohol it that a 70 kilo male can metabolize in one hour. In England one unit of alcohol is 8 gr. or 10 ml alcohol, but this amount is different from country to country; in the United States one unit is 14 gr. alcohol, in Denmark, France, and Italy one unit is 12 gr. and in Austria one unit is 20 gr. In England, the amount of alcohol corresponding to a unit can be obtained from drinking a half pint of normal strength beer (not Lager, which often has a higher alcohol percent) or a small glass of wine (125 ml).

Increasing BAC
A number of factors decide how much and how fast a unit of alcohol increases your BAC. It is of importance if you are a man or a woman, how much you weigh, and if you eat something as well as drink. Moreover, if you drink strong spirits, your BAC will increase faster than it will when drinking beer or wine. The effect usually appears within a matter of 15 minutes.

Women will generally have a higher BAC per unit than that of men because the male body contains more water to dilute the alcohol than that of women. Moreover, men generally weigh more than women. If you eat food and consume alcohol at the same time, the absorption of alcohol from the gastrointestinal canal will be delayed. A small part of the alcohol will also bind to the dietary fat and proteins and therefore not be absorbed. If you drink champagne, the absorption of alcohol will happen extra quickly because of the champagne's content of carbon dioxide. The same thing applies to drinks in which spirits are mixed with soda.

Reducing BAC
The body breaks down and excretes alcohol at a relatively steady speed which is not very high. 5% disappears with expiration, sweat, and urine. The rest - the majority - is dealt with by the liver. No objective alcohol tests have been able to show that coffee or other remedies can help you get sober in record time. Most people decrease their BAC with 0.015% per hour (again, this varies due to weight and sex). This means it is possible to combust about one unit of alcohol per hour. In other words: If you go to bed at 3 a.m. gloriously drunk with a BAC of 0.15%, you will not be completely sober until about 10 hours later; i.e. at 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

Calculating your BAC (men)
Multiply the number of alcohol units by 8 (English measurement). Then you take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by 0.68. Finally, divide the first number by the latter.
Here is an example: You have consumed 6 units of alcohol and weigh 85 kg.
I.e.: 6 units x 8 = 48.
Then: 85 kg. x 0.68 = 57.8
Finally, take the two numbers and divide the first one by the latter one: 48/ 57.8 = 0.8
If it has taken you 2 hours to drink the 6 units, then you need to subtract (2 x 0.15 =) 0.3 from the number obtained (0.8 - 0.3 = 0.5). Finally, divide this number by 10 and you will get the percentage of your BAC (0.5 / 10 = 0.05%).
Please note that the number is only meant as a guideline as there can be large individual variations.

Calculating your BAC (women)
Multiply the number of alcohol units by 8. Then, you take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by 0.55.
Here is an example: You have consumed 5 units of alcohol and weigh 55 kg.
I.e.: 5 units x 8 = 35
Then: 55 kg. x 0.55 = 30.3
Finally, divide the first number by the latter one: 35 / 30.3 = 1.16
If it has taken you 3 hours to drink the 5 units, then you need to subtract (3 x 0.15 =) 0.45 from the number obtained (1.16 - 0.45 = 0.71). Finally, divide this number by 10 and you will get the percentage of your BAC (0.71 / 10 = 0.071%).
Please note that the number is only meant as a guideline as there can be large individual variations. Women will also usually take a little longer to reduce their BAC than is the case with men.

Preventing hangover
There is a lot you can do to prevent being hangover and suffering other adverse effects of alcohol. Besides the fact that the amount of alcohol is important, the type also plays a role, as previously mentioned. The fundamental rule is that the darker the alcohol (whiskey, cognac, rum) you drink, the worse the hangover. The equal amount of light alcohol (vodka, gin) results in less of a hangover. This is because the darker alcohols contain methanol (wood alcohol).

In order to reduce the adverse effects of the acidification taking place in the body when drinking, you should start by drinking a large glass of water with 1 tsp. of bicarbonate of soda (NaHCO3). You may also benefit from taking 8 - 10 capsules of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

GLA is an important essential fatty acid which is extracted from the plants Evening primrose and Borage, for example. GLA is transformed into a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin type 1 which is responsible for the body's nerve function and the blood sugar- and fluid balance.

The combustion of alcohol in your body will metabolize quite a number of important vitamins and minerals. Therefore, you should take your daily supply of vitamins and minerals before starting to drink. Vitaviva's multivitamin-mineral tablets VitaMax and VitaXtra or similar products can be used for this purpose. In any circumstance, you should make sure that the dose includes 1½ - 2 g. of vitamin C, 700 - 800 mg. of vitamin E, and some strong B-vitamins.

Charcoal tablets or -capsules can also be used prophylactically; also known as activated charcoal. Its great beneficial effect is that it absorbs toxins from the intestines and has no adverse effects worth mentioning. You should just not be frightened if your stools get black - because they will. Take 10 capsules with a large glass of water. Charcoal tablets can be bought at the pharmacy.

Because of the diuretic effect of alcohol, you will risk losing salt in the form of potassium and sodium. However, this loss of salt can be easily replaced. Sodium is present in almost all food and potassium can be found in fruit and vegetables in particular.

A terrific prophylactic medicine can be found in the slightly more exotic department in the form of Umeboshi which are pickled Japanese plums. They are a common ingredient in traditional Japanese cooking and are good at counteracting hangovers, probably because of its large content of salt. The plums can be eaten whole, as a paste, or as small tablets before or during the party. They taste excellent in dishes with fish or vegetables and can be bought at health food shops.

Make a habit of drinking water in between the units of alcohol and do not drink too fast. Also make sure to eat before starting to drink.

Alcohol and tobacco
There is a connection between alcohol and tobacco. It is located in the brain and caused by these two substances having opposite effects. Where alcohol blunts the brain cells, nicotine stimulates them. The consequences are well-known: Consuming alcohol increases the need for cigarettes, and too many cigarettes increase your malaise the morning after.

Before bedtime
Before going to bed, you should repeat the small bicarbonate of soda ceremony. Taking some fructose at bedtime also seems to be able to increase the body's combustion of alcohol. Fruit juice can be found in sweet fruits, juice, and honey. If necessary, the next day you can take a dose of GLA, vitamins, and minerals plus charcoal tablets just as the day before. Also eat a good soup with lots of spices.

Moral hangover
An interesting aspect of alcohol is that our behavior while intoxicated is more dependent on culturally and socially conditional learning than on the effect of alcohol itself. In other words: Consuming alcohol cannot be held solely responsible for aggressions and should be no excuse for marital infidelity, for example. A feeling of guilt and remorse the morning after a night of having fooled around breaking all kinds of rules of decent behavior is much too common a phenomenon in many cultures. To quit drinking can solve this problem but if you really want to be able to get to the bottom of the causes for acting irresponsibly while under the influence, you need to make an effort to get to know yourself and your feelings. This can be done through mental therapy.