Since people first started drinking alcohol, the search has been on for a way to go heavy on the pour but light on the hangover.
Unfortunately, two new drinking surveys suggest that search is probably futile.
One poll, conducted in Canada, concluded that if you drink to excess, you’re going to have a hangover — no ifs, ands, or buts.
A second poll, conducted in the Netherlands, suggested that chasing your liquid poison with food or water ultimately does little to improve the hangover experience.
“There is a big difference between severity of hangovers and the symptoms people experience during hangover,” acknowledged Joris Verster, a member of both study teams. Verster is an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, pharmacology, and psychopharmacology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.
“For example, some people have headaches, others are nauseous, others are just tired. Given this, there is no clear definition of a hangover,” he said.
But one thing is clear, Verster said, “the more you drink, the more likely you are to get a hangover.”
Verster and his colleagues are scheduled to present their findings Saturday at a meeting of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Findings presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The survey team pointed out that past research has suggested that between one-quarter to one-third of drinkers routinely attest to being immune from hangovers.
But the Canadian survey found little evidence to support this notion.
Nearly 800 Canadian students were asked to subjectively discuss their single heaviest drinking experience during the previous month. Specifically, the students were asked to note the amount of alcohol consumed and total time spent drinking. All were also asked to indicate if they’d had a hangover, and, if so, to describe its severity.
While just over 30 percent said they didn’t have a hangover, only about 10 percent of those individuals actually had an estimated blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) that exceeded 0.08 percent, the study said. A BAC of 0.08 percent is the point at which American drivers are considered legally impaired, according to the U.S. Governors Highway Safety Association.
What’s more, nearly 80 percent of the supposedly “hangover-free” group registered an estimated BAC below 0.10 percent, while just 2 percent had a BAC of 0.20 percent or more, the study found.
Among the top-drinking group, almost nobody claimed to be hangover-free. And the investigators concluded that it was highly unlikely that any heavy drinker had truly managed to elude the consequences that come with pounding back one too many.
The second survey focused on 825 Dutch students who offered details concerning their latest bout of big drinking and the hangover that followed.
Drink totals were tallied, and investigators noted whether food and/or water was also consumed either right after drinking (before bedtime) or the following morning once a hangover was already underway.
While nearly 55 percent said they had some food before bed, there was no clinical difference seen in the way such drinkers rated the severity of their subsequent hangover when compared with those who didn’t eat immediately after drinking.
Similarly, the nearly 45 percent who said they downed a big breakfast the next day (and the 34 percent who consumed a lot of fatty foods) also saw little reduction in their hangover severity, the survey revealed.
Drinking water while consuming alcohol, or the following morning, also provided merely “modest” hangover relief, the study team found. And they concluded that food and water had no “relevant effect” on hangovers.
Nevertheless, Michael Bloomfield, a clinical lecturer in psychiatry at University College London and the Medical Research Council Clinical Sciences Center in London, England, said more research is needed.
“I don’t think this is the final nail in the coffin with respect to studying hangovers,” he said. “Whilst we know that alcohol affects different chemicals in the body to make us feel lousy, we still aren’t entirely clear on exactly why it is we can feel so dreadful with a hangover,” Bloomfield added.
“At the moment, the best advice to avoid a hangover would be to drink less alcohol,” he suggested. “Everyone’s body deals with alcohol slightly differently so it would be very difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all ‘hangover limit’ for drinking.”
Bloomfield also pointed out that if people can drink a lot without getting a hangover, it may be a sign that they are tolerant to the effects of alcohol. And, that could be a sign that they’re at risk of alcohol addiction. He said that if anyone is concerned about their alcohol use, they should speak with their family doctor or a psychiatrist.
There’s more on heavy drinking at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.