We all know that drinking copious amounts of alcohol isn’t that healthy, but it’s Christmas party season, and as soon as your boss puts their credit card behind the bar, all bets are off. Inevitably at Christmas parties, someone ends up getting clattered (we know, we’ve been there), but it doesn’t have to be you. Let’s review the science of drunk quickly, and then take a look and how you can avoid getting too Chevy Chased this year.
Drunk dog image from Shutterstock
In order to survive this soused-up office party, you need to understand how alcohol is metabolised. According to the National Institutes of Health:
After alcohol is swallowed, it is absorbed primarily from the small intestine into the veins that collect blood from the stomach and bowels and from the portal vein, which leads to the liver. From there it is carried to the liver, where it is exposed to enzymes and metabolised… BAC [Blood-Alcohol Content] is influenced by environmental factors (such as the rate of alcohol drinking, the presence of food in the stomach, and the type of alcoholic beverage) and genetic factors (variations in the principal alcohol-metabolising enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase [ADH] and aldehyde dehydrogenase [ALDH2]).
Got it? Good. Now, some tips.
File under: ‘the bleeding obvious’. Drinking throughout a long party should be approached as an endurance event. You are literally slowly poisoning yourself for hours on end and seeing how long you can take it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Listening to your body is the number one most important thing. If it tells you, “I’ve had enough,” well, you had a good run, but you need to stop, because you could do some serious damage. However, your body may send the message, “Just gimme another 15 minutes. I’m still working on that last one,” in which case, game on. Respect those messages, though, and do your best to listen for them.
Maximum Volume, Minimum Impact
ABV (alcohol by volume) is critical here, and it goes without saying that lower is better. Continuing the metaphor from the last section, this is a marathon. Sipping beer (typically 4-5 percent ABV) is a slow, steady jog that is more likely to get you to the finish line. Taking a shot of tequila (typically 40 percent ABV) is like doing a 100 metre sprint as fast as you can in the middle of said marathon. You’re going to blow yourself out too quickly, and very well might not finish unless you slow way down immediately afterwards.
Yes, we know this is problematic for those of us who love our shots, or prefer a delicious whisky to a bland commercial lager. But the fact is, taking tiny sips is hard to do, and if you’re slamming back Jägerbombs at the bar, you’re obviously hellbent on making HR’s naughty list. If you’re to drink spirits and/or pretend you’re still in uni, make sure you take regular breaks from the booze and drink plenty of water.
This is absolutely essential. Drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. Blackouts, blood-poisoning, all kinds of bad shit. It’s a schoolboy error—don’t ever, ever do it. Ever! You need to eat and we’re not talking about crisps or nuts, or even that artisan black pudding sausage roll your local gastropub has on display at the bar. We’re talking about real meals, and you have the entire day to prepare.
Start with a big, hearty breakfast. As mentioned, alcohol is primarily absorbed in the small intestine. You know what else is? Complex carbohydrates. Fuel up with a breakfast of whole-wheat toast, or porridge, but don’t stop there. Because BAC is affected by gastric emptying rates, put something more substantial in there, like ham, eggs and chips, or a good fry-up. Proteins and fats take longer to digest, so they’ll stay with you longer and continue to work their anti-spins magic. Burgers can also be considered a superfood in this sport.
Keep eating once you get to the party, too, and do not stop. Not only will keeping plenty of food in your stomach slow the rate of alcohol absorption, but it will make you feel full, which will encourage you to drink slower.
Drinking stuff that fills you up will help, too. Again, beer is great for this. If you can control how much alcohol goes into it, then you’ve got yourself a hearty (yet appropriately festive) drink that will slow down the rest of the booze you’re drinking. Just go light on the booze.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you wee more, which can lead to dehydration (one of the major causes of getting sick from drinking, and also of hangovers). Water is your friend. Not soft drinks, not fizzy water – water. Aim to have once glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume. It’s hard to do it, and you will wee quite a lot, but try.
Hydration is absolutely critical for maintaining proper brain function. The more you dry out, the more your head will hurt and the harder thinking straight will become, and that will lead you down a nasty path very quickly. Do you want to tell your secret office crush that you’ve loved them for years and would do anything for just one night with them? No? Then definitely drink as much water as you can throughout the night.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re tired, one beer can hit you like it was three? There are a number of contributing factors here. Part of it is just that when you’re tired, thinking clearly is more difficult. Ever heard the phrase ‘sleep drunk’? The symptoms of exhaustion can manifest themselves in a manner similar to drunkenness. Adding alcohol to the equation only amplifies this effect. But there’s something else going on as well.
According to the University of Rochester:
General fatigue or tiredness will lead to a higher BAC than normal as one’s liver is less efficient at processing and/or eliminating alcohol when one’s general energy level is low. Furthermore, as alcohol is a depressant, consuming alcohol when tired will, in general, simply increase one’s level of tiredness while magnifying alcohol’s traditional effects.
Extreme tiredness equals pass out equals fail. If you know you’re in for a long night of drinking, get as much sleep as possible the night before.
Heat and alcohol are not a good combination. The military agrees, noting that alcohol “raises the body’s blood pressure, increasing the risk of a heat-related illness like hyperthermia (over heating) and heat stroke (especially for people with high blood pressure).”
Plus, when you’re hot you sweat more and need more water to maintain equilibrium. Because alcohol is a diuretic and you’re already losing a lot of fluids, this is a bad combo. Heat can also exacerbate the symptoms of drunkenness. Yeah, it’s December, but a lot of Christmas parties really crank up the heat inside. Keep checking in with your core temp, and stand by a window to get some fresh air when you need it. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ditch that Christmas jumper – you had to wear it for the office photo, not the entire party.
When you’re pissing like a goat every 10 minutes, you aren’t just losing water, you’re losing some important nutrients. In order to avoid painful hangovers (which may start long before the day is over) it’s important to replenish these nutrients. B vitamins are one of the first things alcohol depletes you of. There are plenty of foods that are a good course of B vitamins, or you could pop a B-Complex.
You’re also going to needs some electrolytes. While sports drinks like Powerade are supposedly electrolyte-balanced to help with rehydration, but they also have a lot of sugar. You know what’s better? Just get some vitamin B supplements. Look for drinks with plenty of potassium in them, too, since that’s one of the first things to go.
Now, some also recommend taking aspirin as you drink (do not exceed recommended doses). Aspirin has been show to interfere with the action of alcohol dehydrogenases, thus slowing down the rate of absorption. While it may keep you sober longer, there is potential for harmful interaction, so we do not recommend this. Using anything with acetaminophen in it is a definite DON’T as you can really damage your liver. In fact, it’s best to stay away from any drugs (legal or otherwise) while drinking. A hangover the next day is far preferable to organ damage.
Many people choose to caffeinate before or while drinking. It’s true that it will keep you more alert, but it will not keep you more sober. In fact, this goes against the ‘listen to your body’ rule we mentioned earlier, because you are artificially tricking it into thinking it’s better off than it is. This can lead to too much drinking, too fast, and serious black-out experiences. Also, caffeine is a diuretic, like alcohol, so it will further dehydrate you. We’re not saying we never do this, we’re just saying that you should be extra, extra careful when you do.
Above All, Think
Again, exercise judgement here. We understand that sometimes you want to cut loose, but don’t hurt yourself or others. Have your fun, but stay safe, and make sure you’re alive (and still employed) in the morning.
This article originally appeared on Lifehacker UK