We all know the feeling: The I’m-going-to-puke-any-second nausea. The nagging headache that leaves you bedridden. The dry mouth that never seems to be quenched by your bedside water.
Hangovers are inevitable, even for the moderate drinker. And sufferers will do just about anything to get rid of them. Unfortunately, there is no cure for hangovers. But, don’t tell the internet that! Forums, blogs, social media posts are rife with speculation on how to beat the brown bottle flu.
Do a quick Google search and you’ll find some of the craziest hangover remedies that people swear by. Some of our favorite recommendations were to (a) drink sour pickle juice, (b) rub lemon juice on your armpits, or (c) have a glass of Coca-Cola mixed with some milk. @GracieWasp had some other suggestions:
After all these years, I’ve found the cure to hangovers: It’s looking at pictures of dogs.
— Grace Bridgewater (@GracieWasp) February 19, 2017
The fight to find a remedy for those Sunday-morning blues has been well-documented throughout history. And, to the likes of many hungover college kids out there, we are finally starting to make some progress. Exciting evidence published by Dr. Vijay Ramchandani and his team suggests that we may be closer than ever to a hangover cure.
And that cure is found beneath the tortilla of a sausage and egg breakfast taco. Well… at least that’s what we think.
Eat a Meal After Drinking to Reduce the Effects of Alcohol
Ramchandani’s study, published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, examined the effects of food on alcohol pharmacokinetics. That’s a fancy way of describing how alcohol is absorbed, broken down, and eliminated from the body. Ramchandani wanted to know if food will help us sober up or if it is just a myth, akin to rubbing lemon juice on your armpits.
To find out, his all-star team of PhDs and MDs sat down and measured something called the alcohol elimination rate (AER) in various people. This shows how quickly your body eliminates alcohol. We can assume that the quicker alcohol is eliminated, the quicker you’ll overcome your hangover. Although research suggests that women eliminate alcohol faster than men, not too many people know how food will affect this process.
So, the team grabbed their pencils and paper and started collecting data. They began by measuring people’s breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) before and after eating, making note of any drastic changes. Using a cutting-edge technique called “clamping,” which gave people a steady dose of alcohol through an IV drip, they were able to gather more reliable and accurate results.
And, their findings are fascinating.
Research suggests alcohol is eliminated 9% – 49% quicker after consuming food
People in the study eliminated alcohol anywhere from 9% to 49% quicker if they ate a meal within an hour after drinking. What’s also interesting is that the type of meal didn’t matter. In other words, participants could eat a high-fat, high-protein, or high-carbohydrate meal and the results would be the same.
That means it doesn’t matter if you order your taquito with chorizo, bacon, or potato. As long as you can stomach at least 530-calories of food, you should be good to go.
Now, it’s important to note that the science behind hangovers is still up for debate. Therefore, the relationship between hangovers and alcohol elimination rates (AER) is one that needs further study. Regardless, I don’t think a breakfast taco in the morning could hurt you. If anything, it’ll give you a small surge of dopamine once that egg-filled masterpiece hits your tongue.
The Science Behind Your Hangover
Yes, hangovers are still puzzling to the scientific community. But, thanks to the team over at the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, we have a general blueprint for how they work.
Once swallowed, alcohol makes its way to the stomach and small intestine, where it is absorbed in the body. What’s interesting is that food slows alcohol’s rate of absorption. Without food (e.g. breakfast tacos), alcohol will enter your bloodstream more quickly and cause a dangerous spike in your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). As a result, the side effects of drinking are intensified, including a decline in hand-eye coordination and judgment. This is why medical experts caution against drinking on an empty stomach.
After alcohol enters your bloodstream, it is passed on to the liver. This organ is responsible for ridding the body of harmful substances. When fully healthy, the liver can eliminate roughly 90-95% of all alcohol in the body. Although this happens through several different pathways, the main one involves two enzymes: alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH).
Simply put — ADH breaks down alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is further broken down into acetate by ALDH.
Interestingly enough, it’s the formation of acetaldehyde that has caught the eye of scientists. Why this molecule? Well, scientists believe that a build-up of acetaldehyde in the body may be the reason why we get hangovers. For example, high-levels of acetaldehyde in patients have been known to cause the following:
- Elevated heart rate
- Increased skin temperature
- Excessive sweating
- Dry mouth
These are the same symptoms that people experience when they’re hungover. So, it’s not too far-fetched to suggest acetaldehyde has something to do with that morning-after funk. And, other professionals are starting to rally behind this theory too. That tiny-but-deadly molecule is starting to catch the attention of research institutions and pharmaceutical companies across the globe.
For instance, some medicinal reviews like this one suggest taking a phenolic-based supplement (e.g. resveratrol, quercetin, and curcumin) to compensate for the buildup of acetaldehyde. Supposedly, these are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant products that minimize acetaldehyde accumulation, but we can’t attest to their clinical effectiveness.
And, what about that other molecule, acetate?
Although acetate isn’t as attention-grabbing as its chemical counterpart, some speculate that its presence may indicate whether or not you’re an alcoholic. Research shows that heavy drinkers tend to have higher levels of acetate in their blood than moderate drinkers. The more acetate in your body, the more tolerable you are to the effects of alcohol.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Take Tylenol
Waking up to what feels like a jackhammer in your head is the worst. But, whatever you do, don’t reach for that bottle of Tylenol! Mixing Tylenol and alcohol has been known to cause severe liver damage, also known as acetaminophen-induced hepatotoxicity.
The reason why lies with how the liver breaks down Tylenol’s active ingredient, acetaminophen. When liver enzymes break down this pain reliever, a toxic byproduct called NAPQ1 is produced. This molecule is not something you want floating around in your system. Fortunately, you have a powerful antioxidant named glutathione (GSH) that prevents this molecule from accumulating.
The kicker is that you have a limited amount of glutathione (GSH). After it’s all used up, NAPQI is set to roam free, and liver cells start to die. Here’s a video explaining the process for all my science geeks.
But, what do all these confusing chemistry terms have to do with alcohol?
In short, your liver isn’t Superman. It has limits and can only remove so many toxins at once. Taking multiple drugs together causes your liver to work overtime, and some molecules may fall by the wayside. Therefore, if you pop a couple of Tylenol in the morning, your liver might not be able to remove that nasty NAPQ1. And, the result can be a deadly acetaminophen overdose.
What makes the combination of acetaminophen and alcohol even more dangerous is that it’s extremely hard to discern whether you’re just hungover or experiencing acetaminophen toxicity. Symptoms of Tylenol poisoning include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle weakness
- Poor appetite
If you experience any of these symptoms, please call a doctor or poison control center as prolonged exposure can be extremely damaging to the body.
Don’t roll your eyes! I’m serious.
A 2016 report shows that 20% of all liver transplants are due to acetaminophen-related liver damage; whereas, 37% of all liver transplants are due to alcohol-induced liver damage. Additionally, research shows that those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) are more likely to damage their liver by taking acetaminophen than moderate drinkers. As you can see, alcohol and acetaminophen go hand-in-hand so be careful.
Hangovers Are Expensive
There’s no doubt that hangovers suck, but did you know they may be costing you money? And, we’re not just talking about that expensive bar tab from the night before, or the breakfast taco from McDonalds in the morning. Economists think that excessive alcohol use and alcohol-induced hangovers cost the country roughly $250 billion dollars a year. That’s billion with a B.
The bulk of that cost stems from losses in workplace productivity. Just admit it, you’re not as good on the job after a bender, and it shows. Heck, you may even miss work altogether – breakfast taco trick or not. A survey conducted in 2002, showed that when participants drank heavily, they were twice as likely to not show up to work the following day.
What’s also interesting is that social support systems have a significant effect on whether or not you’ll miss work. For instance, the likelihood of missing work increases when employees have supervisory support. In other words, employees who think their bosses are “cool with them” are more than likely to miss work after a night of drinking. On the other hand, people with coworker support have significantly reduced absenteeism rates.
That’s a scary stat. And, something people struggling with alcohol addiction should be wary of. Your workplace dynamic (i.e. relationship with your boss and coworkers) can influence your drinking behavior – sometimes negatively.
Hangovers also have serious consequences when it comes to job performance and safety. Hungover individuals exhibit shorter attention spans, lapses in judgment, and decreased motor function. These symptoms can occur even when there is no alcohol left in your bloodstream. And, when it comes to high-stakes, technical jobs like operating heavy equipment, showing up hungover is extremely risky and potentially deadly.
Despite the risks, roughly 10% of Americans still do it. And, don’t think this habit is reserved for low-income, labor-intensive workers. Working while hungover is typically seen within single, younger males as well as those in management positions.
So, just how much time is lost to hangovers?
1 month each year is “lost” to hangovers
In one survey, users claimed to experience 2.7 hangovers per month… that means that 1 month each year is “lost” to hangovers. Factor in missed wages, healthcare expenses, and that Favor you had delivered to your door because you couldn’t get out of bed, and you’re looking at a loss significantly higher than your bar tab.
Talk about some stark Freakonomics, right there.
Get Plugged In with Your EAP Program at Work
Luckily, there are resources out there for employees struggling with alcohol addiction. For instance, we recommend you consult with your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as soon as possible. EAPs are company-run groups that offer mental health and substance abuse services for their employees – typically at no cost. There, you can take part in counseling or outpatient rehab while maintaining your job.
At Stonegate Center, we can’t encourage this enough. We often find that our clients weren’t aware their company had an EAP or were too afraid to use it. These services are strictly confidential and, no, you won’t “get in trouble” for using them. In fact, it’s strongly encouraged.
Think about it. Your employer would rather have you back on your feet and completely healthy than having to stomach lost productivity costs due to alcohol-related issues.
So, there you have it… Hangovers suck. They feel awful, they are misunderstood by science, and they can cost you some crisp greenbacks.
And although a breakfast taco might be a great way to get alcohol out of your system, the best hangover cure our team can offer is abstinence. No, it’s not as “fun.” And, yes, you might miss out on some crazy Instagram Stories, but nothing beats waking up nice and sober on a Sunday morning, ready to tackle the day.
On a serious note, if you or a loved one is struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and need immediate assistance, give us a call at (817) 993-9733. Or, for those who’d rather correspond behind the privacy of their laptop, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Admissions Team is available 24/7 and is happy to answer any questions you may have about, addiction, recovery, and the rehab process.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction as well as the pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center’s status at the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content creation. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.