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Beer Hangovers And What To Do About ‘Em

AScience confirms what you drink and in what order affects the magnitude of your hangover. How bad is beer’s effect?

AScience confirms what you drink and in what order affects the magnitude of your hangover. How bad is beer’s effect?

Who among us that indulges in the “Devil’s nectar” hasn’t at some point in time experienced a massive hangover? 

Beer can’t claim full credit for causing hangovers. Any alcoholic beverage consumed in large amounts in a short period of time will produce one. Generally, beer’s relatively low alcohol percentage of 5% makes it a poor choice for getting trashed on the quick for an ultimate hangover experience.

There is an old saying in the world of liquor consumption: beer before liquor, never sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. Taking these words as gospel is liable to make you very sick. Copious shots of vodka followed by a pint beer isn’t going to make you fearless. You will wake up with a hangover in the morning. 

But there is some truth to the statement.  A study was conducted by the British universities University of Manchester and University of Lancashire in 2007.   Admittedly, the study was small. Only 21 participants. Diluted concentrations of alcohol were found to be absorbed faster than the 80 proof vodkas and tequilas everyone already knows get you drunk on the quick. A more simplistic way to look at this is to think of it in terms of mass and volume. The beer or mixed drink is larger in mass and volume and remains in the stomach longer. Drinking the beer and cocktails first, then adding the hard liquor afterwards, essentially creates another mixed drink inside your stomach which remains there longer getting you ever drunker and sicker. It is the same rationale of eating fruit before you eat cooked foods. The fruits have self-digesting enzymes that pass through your body very quickly in the absence of other food in the digestive tract. If the fruit is eaten after the four course meal, the fruit starts putrefying in the gut as it waits its turn behind the steak and potatoes previously eaten.

And lately, there’s been more talk, sort of backed up by science, that carbonation within an alcoholic beverage (i.e. beer) hastens the feeling of drunkenness.  Officials within the American Distilling Institute have commented, without citing scientific evidence, that a bottle of champagne will cause more of a blow than a bottle of white wine.  The National Institutes of Health has stated that a fizzy alcoholic drink will be absorbed faster than a non-carbonated alcoholic beverage.  The 2007 study in Manchester also tested blood alcohol concentrations in people who consumed vodka mixed with carbonated water compared to people who drank the vodka with flat water. The alcohol-water mixture, whether flat or carbonated, showed more dramatic spikes than the vodka mixed with nothing, but the concentration from drinking the carbonated water mixture was noticeably higher after 25-30 minutes of consumption.

The beer-before-liquor adage has some further credibility when you consider the pacing at which people drink. Excepting alcoholics and spring breakers in party mode, tipplers of hard liquor tend to drink those beverages at a slower pace. A whiskey or fine tequila is usually savored. When one switches to beer afterwards, he’s already set a slower pace, thus minimizing the overall amount of alcohol he’ll probably consume.

So by now it should be evident that the severity of a hangover is greatly determined by what you drink and in the order you drink it. On a list of alcoholic beverages promoting the worst hangovers – presumably ranked by each drink being sipped on its lonesome throughout the night — brandy, high-sugared alcoholic beverages, red wine, rum, whiskey, tequila, and champagne all ranked above beer.  [White wine, gin, and vodka were “healthier.”] 

Sweeter drinks and drinks distilled from sugar contributing to a worse hangover makes sense. The body metabolizes alcohol and sugar in similar ways.   Sugary drinks combined with the alcohol are a greater burden on the liver.

That’s not telling the complete story.  Something called congeners has a great effect on how severe your hangover is. Congeners are toxic byproducts of the alcohol fermentation process.   Red wine, bourbon, brandy, whiskey, tequila – they’re all high in congeners. 

And beercan be, too. 

Here’s where macrobrewers have an edge over craft brewers. Less complex macrobrews contain fewer congeners. Congeners give a beer its flavor, its smell, its appearance.  A complex microbrew made with walnuts, doughnuts, and funky bacteria from a kitchen sink is going to contain more congeners than a Miller Lite. And generally, a darker richer beer will have more congeners than a pale pilsner. This isn’t always the case though. If the beer is darker because it was distilled from a darker malt, it won’t necessarily be higher in congeners.

Therefore, a beer aficionado drinking several pints of rich complex craft brews in a relatively short period of time looks almost destined to experience some kind of hangover the next day. 

Can something be done about it?

All drinks, to some degree, are diuretics – that is to say, they stimulate the urge to urinate.  But some drinks, like beer and coffee, have more of a diuretic effect than others.  Excessive alcohol consumption decreases the body’s production of an anti-diuretic hormone. This hormone, when functioning normally, causes the body to reabsorb water. When it’s not, like during one of your benders, your body will lose more fluid at a faster rate. In concise English, we call this dehydration, one of the marked symptoms of a hangover.

A simple and obvious but rarely practiced solution: drink as much water as possible after you’ve stopped drinking but before you pass out. Getting two liters of water down is easier said than done when you’re already feeling bloated from drinking half a keg. 

A more potent solution is to help aid the body in its task to eliminate all the toxins you just sipped.  The liver handles this and, if you drink moderately, handles it well. But if you drink too much too fast, the liver can’t eliminate the toxic load fast enough, which is why you wake up in the morning still feeling the effects of drunkenness.  Performing a coffee enema or two just before hitting unconsciousness causes the body to dump huge toxic loads in one shot, kind of like hiring cleaners to spiff up your pad after your wild party rather than just relying on your single once-a-week maid. As a coffee enema involves sticking a liter or two of organic coffee up your back pipe and retaining it for twenty minutes before expelling, most nauseous drunkards destined for tomorrow’s hangover would be puking into the toilet from their front pipe before any tubes could be inserted up their back.  

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