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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 July 2006, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
The myths and science of drink
Absolutely Fabulous
It's hangover avoidance, sweetie
Scientists say drinkers who smoke don't get as drunk. Really? How do other central tenets of drinkers' wisdom bear up to scrutiny?

Contrary to how it may feel in the morning, recent research suggests smoking may reduce the effects of alcohol - nicotine may prevent the passage of alcohol into the intestine where it's easily absorbed.

In the long run, the scientists say this will harm drinkers, who will have to consume more to get the desired effect. But it provides a scientific basis for a belief long-cherished by some smokers - that their vice was ameliorating their other vice.

How about other pieces of conventional wisdom about drinking?


It's the classic piece of advice meted out in a nation where binge-drinking is next in the charts after Godliness and cleanliness - get something down you before you go out.

Dr Guy Ratcliffe, medical director of the Medical Council on Alcoholism, says the evidence suggests that drinking on an empty stomach appears to make you more drunk.

Del Boy with favourite vices
A fine drop will still get you drunk
"Alcohol is a very simple molecule and is absorbed very rapidly. If you have a full stomach, the rate of absorption seems to be reduced. Whether that has any long term benefits is another question."

Professor Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians, says the effects of drinking on an empty stomach are dramatically different, adding that health is best served by slow drinking.

Eating rich or fatty food before drinking delays the rate of "gastric emptying". Some alcohol is absorbed through the stomach, but the key place is the small intestine. If the booze isn't getting there as quickly, your body has a much better time processing it.


Not all alcoholic drinks are the same. There's different strengths, different types of alcohol and, importantly for a hangover's magnitude, what manufacturers call congeners - the chemicals that add flavour, smell and colour. Many are toxic, as alcohol is.

Revellers revelling
Intersperse hard drinks with soft
Dr Ratcliffe says darker drinks like red wine, port, whisky and brandy seem to contain higher levels of congeners than the likes of gin, vodka and white wine.

And the long-standing belief that a bottle of Petrus or Margaux is less likely than, say, Bulgarian plonk, to leave an angry armadillo nesting in your head, may have some validity as fine wines are thought to contain fewer of these chemicals.

"The so-called congeners almost certainly do contribute to the hangover," Prof Gilmore adds.


We all know this one. After a heavy night, there's nothing less appetising than a couple of pints of water. But those who force these down swear their hangover is lessened the next morning.

Both Dr Ratcliffe and Prof Gilmore agree that the science backs up your mother. Hangovers are in great part dehydration. The body is using water as it processes the alcohol. By the time you wake up you may have used too much.

Thinking ahead the night before will help. Interspersing drinks with glasses of water is recommended.


"Champagne goes straight to my head," goes the refrain, and the explanation for many a story of bad behaviour at weddings.

It's a piece of wisdom that makes it onto a government website on drinking, although the scientific reasoning behind it is not obvious.

Prof Gilmore says: "I don't know of any evidence but it's a common observation. It may be that champagne is usually drunk on an empty stomach."

Dr Ratcliffe is a bit more confident. "It does seem that bubbles do increase the rate of alcohol absorption," he says. "You may inhale some bubbles in the air you breathe."


It doesn't take a scientist to warn that a couple of pints at 8am the morning after the night before is not a realistic long-term plan at hangover avoidance.

"It is very much a slippery slope and a very strong indicator of alcohol dependence to drink as an eye-opener," says Prof Gilmore. "Drinking on a hangover will dull the pain but it is an extremely dangerous manoeuvre."

What's your own piece of received wisdom on drinking? Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Per the "fizzy drinks" entry: carbonation of any sort stimulates the pyloric sphincter (stomach to gut connection) to open, which leads to more rapid absorption via the small intestine whether it's beer, champs, or even soda. Shots of undiluted hard liquor (especially if it's iced) will actually make the stomach seize up and will be absorbed more slowly.
Paul, Austin, USA

You forgot the one about not mixing your drinks. I only drink red wine White wine has different chemicals and for me the two do not mix. I think we should avoid having different drinks in the same evening. We dont know just how bad it is for our health creating these chemical cocktails.
scott, torquay uk

Three satsumas before going to bed = no hangover!!
Shelly, Slough UK

I disagree with Prof Gilmore, drinking on a hangover is not a slippery slope at all; it's more of a dizzy helter skelter of fun.
bob, London

Flat Cola (stir it with a spoon) and Extra Strong Mints make for a great hangover cure. It replenishes liquids without making you feel sick and the mints settle the stomach as well as freshening your breath.
Stoo, Lancashire, UK

Take milk thistle tablets before you start drinking. I swear this really works. being a hardened drinker from the Highlands, I should know!!!
Claire Macdonald, Isle Of Lewis

My father always told me to "never mix the grape and the grain" - and he's quite right! As for curing a hangover, it is mainly down to rehydrating and replacing last sugars in the body. Although a fruit salad will be the last thing most people want (I usually hanker after a bacon sandwich), it really does the trick. Think oranges, kiwis, melon - nice juicy fruits.
Samantha, Sevenoaks

Drinking alcohol through a straw makes you drunk quicker - true, alcohol has a lower boiling point than water. In a vacuum even water "boils" at room temperature. By using a straw you create a vacuum in the mouth - the alcohol boils and vaporises within the vacuum and is thus quickly and easily absorbed through the well blood supplied membranes of the mouth and hence straight to the brain.
Jim Cullen, Doncaster

Champagne almost certainly does make you drunk quicker - and it is all down to the bubbles! There was a scietific study contacted by the human psychopharmacology unit at the University of Surrey in Guildford in 2001.

The study was as follows: champagne was given to 12 volunteers - half drank fizzy champagne and the other half had flat champagne, purged of its bubbles beforehand with a whisk. The following week, she repeated the experiment but gave each volunteer the opposite kind of champagne to the previous time. That way, everyone tried both types of wine.

Each person drank two glasses of champagne per session. With the exact intake adjusted o that everyone drank the same amount of alcohol per kilogram of body mass. The results? Well, alcohol levels rose much faster among the bubbly drinkers. After just five minutes, they had an average of 0.54 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. Those drinking flat champagne averaged just 0.39 milligrams of alcohol. At the end of the experiment, the bubbly drinkers were visibly worse for wear. Some could hardly write apparently!!
Chris Cathcart, Ayton, Berwickshire

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) works well, and is available at vitamin stores in the USA (not sure about the UK). It is a biochemical pre-cursor for a molecule in liver cells called glutathione, which you use a lot of when detoxifying alcohol and other harmful chemicals. Two x 500mg caplets of NAC before going out or even before going to bed, seems to work wonders for a hangover.
Paul, USA

I swear by a banana and honey milkshake. Banana for the potassium to help the headache, honey for the sugar to aid the shakes, and milk for the alkali to settle the stomach acid. Stick it all in a blender and it's like a gift from the gods.
Ian, Haywards Heath England

Pint of water and a Berocca before bed. Pint of water, Paracetamol and Berocca when you get up. Bacon sandwich on the way in to work. Genius - works every time.
Jon, London, UK

I find Neurofen works wonders, but it must be taken before drinking. It's for preventing a hangover rather than curing it.
Neil, Basingstoke

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