December is upon us at last, and with it comes an endless parade of after-work drinks, cocktail parties, and full-on Big Nights Out. If you’re a social butterfly, it’s the most wonderful time of year – but the cumulative hangovers can also make for some particularly horrific Monday (and Sunday, and Friday, and Tuesday) mornings.
Unless you’re admirably disciplined or particularly lucky, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to steer clear of a hangover entirely this festive season. But there are ways that you can temper the risk of being completely knocked out by your office Christmas party – and naturally, a lot of it comes down to what you drink.
All kinds of booze contain an active ingredient called ethanol. But during the fermenting process, toxic side products called ‘congeners’ are often formed as well. And according to several studies, alcoholic drinks with high amounts of congeners seem to increase the frequency and intensity of hangovers – because the body struggles to break them down.
Here, we take a look at some of our favourite drinks – and how likely they are to leave you with a pounding head.
For many of us, Russia’s national drink will be associated with questionable life decisions (unsurprising, considering that most brands are 40% alcohol mixed with water).
But a study by the British Medical Journal found that vodka is actually the least likely drink to give you a hangover: it’s so pure that it contains virtually no congeners.
Mixing vodka with soda or fruit juice is ideal, as sugary soft drinks can contribute to a headache the morning after the night before. But go easy. Because vodka is almost tasteless, it’s still easy to accidentally drink too much.
Clear spirits in general
Other colourless drinks, like rum, sake and gin, are similarly low in congeners (although not as low as vodka), and thus less likely to leave you feeling ill. We knew there was a reason we loved gin so much.
Higher-congener, darker-toned liquors like whiskey and bourbon lead to much more severe hangovers than lighter-coloured or clear spirits. One particular congener, methanol (found in highest levels in whiskey and red wine) has been found to linger in the body after all alcohol has been eliminated – which could help explain why a Jack Daniels hangover can knock you out for days.
Drunk in moderation, there are some unexpected health benefits to drinking Prosecco. But Boris Tabakoff, a pharmacology professor at the University of Colorado, explains that bubbly drinks like Prosecco, champagne and cava can also bring on a killer hangover.
“The carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages like champagne helps absorb the alcohol,” he tells ABC. “You get a faster rate of absorption, higher blood alcohol levels – and brain levels – if you drink champagne as opposed to something non-carbonated.”
As a result, about two thirds of people get drunker faster when they drink champagne or other carbonated alcoholic drinks.
Watch: How to make a peach Bellini
Sipping a glass (or several) of red by a roaring fire feels an appropriate thing to do at Christmas. But the darker the wine, the more congeners it has, as these also determine alcohol’s colour and flavour.
Professor Steve Allsop of the University of Technology in Perth tells ABC that some people may also have a reaction to certain components and additives in alcohol, and the histamines in red wine can make some people who suffer hay fever feel miserable. Preservatives and colourings can also give you a bad hangover if your body can’t tolerate them.
So while it might feel like more of a summer drink, a chilled glass of pinot grigio is safer than merlot if you’re looking ahead to the next day.
Images: iStock, Rex Features