Head pounding. Room spinning. Mouth as dry as the Sahara Desert. The telltale signs that last night was a blast, but that the next 24 hours plus are going to be torture. We’ve all been there, but did you know that the intensity of your hangover isn’t just based on how much you consume, but also the colour of your beverage of choice.
Before we go into the details, it’s best to understand what actually causes a hangover, which makes even the best of nights a regretful blur.
Alcohol reduces the release of vasopressin, a hormone released by the pituitary gland, which promotes the retention of water by the kidneys, which ultimately affects your blood pressure. This reduction means that the collecting ducts of your kidneys don’t absorb as much water for your own body’s use, but instead lead to increased volumes of urine being produced AKA ‘breaking the seal’. In scientific terms, this makes alcohol a diuretic.
Excess loss of water leads to dehydration, which can help contribute to the earthquake in your head that you experience the morning after, as the blood vessels in your brain dilate in response to the lowered blood pressure.
On top of this, alcohol contains a lot of sugar that is metabolized by your liver to glucose, which adds to your body homeostasis, the maintenance of your body conditions, being completely off balance.
So what do the scientists say?
Alcohol contains toxins called congeners, which help to give alcohol its taste and colour, which lead to the hypothesis that the darker the alcohol, the more intense the hangover, much to the dismay of my fellow dark rum lovers out there.
A 2010 study which compared the effects of bourbon and vodka supported this hypothesis when the congener content of the alcohol only seemed to affect the severity of the hangover, but interestingly enough, not the ‘next day neurocognitive performance’ which is basically the ability to function the next day, nor did the congener content seem to disrupt the amount of sleep that the participants got. So those of you who think that you won’t be able to take in any information during that 9am lecture, think again.
You might be told by your G&T drinking friends that only the finest, most expensive tipples are the key to avoiding a hangover, and whilst they’re partly right as alcohol that is distilled more (and gets rid of more toxins) is generally more expensive to buy, there isn’t a great deal of evidence to back his up. Generally it’s the low quality of the alcohol that gives rise to these increased impurities. So don’t put down your £2 Cheeky Vimto just yet.
However, cheaper brands of spirits that would normally contain fewer congeners such as vodka, are likely to be distilled less than their more expensive counterparts. It may therefore be better to pay a bit more for your favourite whiskey, than to opt for the cheapest vodka that you can find.
The carbonation of the drinks may also play a role in the likelihood of a hangover, as the gas in the drink increases the pressure of gas in the stomach, favouring faster absorption of what you have just drank, as well as anything that shortly follows it. It’s therefore likely that cocktails, shortly followed by shots, may just be a fast-pass to hangover hell.
Although I hasten to add *I hear you groan* that excessive consumption of alcohol of any kind, congener central or not, is likely to increase your chances of achieving a hangover that you’ll remember more than the night out itself, so don’t take on more than you can handle and look after your friends that do!
However, the scientific evidence suggests that the moral of the story is, if when looking through your beverage you can see that one crazy guy on the dance floor or that one fantastic specimen that will inevitably reject you, content yourself with the fact that you’re probably giving yourself less of a battle the following morning.