Why All Hangovers Are Not Created Equal, According To Science

Champagne may make your birthday or celebration more exciting, but chances are you’re going to regret it tenfold the next morning — a lot more than if you’d chugged a few beers the night before. In fact, most people are acutely aware that the bubbly will make them anything but bubbly the next day. The question is — why? Boris Tabakoff, a Pharmacology Professor at the University of Colorado, explains how it happens, according to the Huffington Post.

“[Champagne] gets a bad reputation for bringing on a killer hangover the next day, and there may be some science to why that is. The carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages like champagne helps absorb the alcohol. You get a faster rate of absorption, higher blood alcohol levels — and brain levels — if you drink champagne as opposed to something non-carbonated.”

[Photo by David Becker/Getty Images]
First things first. What is a hangover? We’ve seen the movie, and many have had one, but what is the scientific explanation of that feeling the day after you imbibe on alcohol, sometimes when you don’t even think you’ve particularly had a lot to drink? A lot of science has blamed dehydration, since alcohol is a diuretic, and while that’s some of it, it’s not the answer to the whole equation.

So consuming plenty of water before and after your alcohol debauchery may help curb some of the effects — headache, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and dry mouth, but it’s not going to totally erase the hangover. Still, science doesn’t know why, but it has some clues. Dr. Allan Thompson of Oxford University can describe scientifically what a hangover is, but is still a bit puzzled on why they occur with different levels of severity.

“The alcohol hangover develops when blood alcohol concentration (BAC) returns to zero and is characterised by a feeling of general misery that may last more than 24 hours. The alcohol hangover is an intriguing issue since it is unknown why these symptoms are present after alcohol and its metabolites are eliminated from the body. To make matters complicated, the presence and severity of alcohol hangovers is influenced by many factors other than the amount of alcohol. One is these factors is the presence of congeners in alcoholic drinks.”

What’s a cogener? He explains that as well.

“Congeners are substances that flavour and colour drinks. In laboratory experiments mixing pure alcohol with orange juice can prevent the presence of congeners. However, in real life (and naturalistic experiments) people consume a variety of different alcoholic drinks which all have different congener content. Drinking lighter colored drinks isn’t a good method of hangover prevention — but it may help a little. Congeners are found in larger amounts in dark liquors, such as brandy, whiskey, darker beer, and red wine, than they are in clear liquors, such as vodka, gin, and lighter beers. One particular congener — methanol — breaks down into the toxins formaldehyde and formic acid, which can worsen a hangover.”

Bottles of Alcohol

Everyone obviously wants to know how to avoid a hangover. The most foolproof, and obvious, way is to not drink alcohol, but that’s not what anyone wants to hear. However, it’s the truth. Unfortunately, what we drink and how we metabolize it can’t even be accurately guessed by size, hydration levels, or amount of alcohol consumed. Of course, the more you drink, the more wicked your hangover will likely be, but sometimes even moderate drinking causes major hangovers. Dr. Hall-Flavin explains that sticking to less alcohol is a better option, even if we know light-colored drinks are less likely to cause hangovers.

“Several studies have investigated hangovers, but none has found an effective method of hangover prevention. While lighter colored drinks may slightly help with hangover prevention, drinking too many alcoholic beverages of any color will still make you feel bad the morning after. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can cause dehydration, low blood sugar, digestive irritation and disturbed sleep — all factors that lead to hangover symptoms.”

[Photo by Johannes Simon/Getty Images]