Beer Department: The Facts about Alcohol Intoxication: Staying Safe This Summer

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The sun is hot, the days are long, and opportunities for celebration abound. Yes, ladies and gents, summer is officially here! So, if partying is on your horizon (and I hope it is), I want to clear up a few misconceptions and offer a few tips to make us all happier, smarter, and more responsible party animals this summer.

There is a widespread belief that mixing different types of alcohol or consuming various alcohols in a particular order is bad and that drinking numerous alcohols in other sequences is somehow safer. This isn’t true, per se, though it is rooted in a completely different morsel of truth. In reality, all intoxicating alcohol that we consume is identical— our friend ethanol. Thus, mixing liquor, beer, and wine makes no difference to our digestive system or our brain. Furthermore, the order in which you consume them makes zero difference either. The real danger in consuming multiple different kinds of alcohol is that our consumption habits with different sources of alcohol should be different. For instance, you shouldn’t drink rum or tequila the same way that you drink wine. Beer is also consumed differently. When we’re drinking various kinds of alcohol, most people will have difficulty slowing down if they switch over to liquor after drinking beer or wine. So feel free to chase your beer with a shot or whatever you might prefer. Just know that mixing different alcohols significantly increases your risk of accidentally drinking way too much. Don’t get hung up on the order; worry about the quantity.

The best advice I can give anyone who is drinking, at any time, ever, is to hydrate. Drink as much water as you can. This becomes especially important when we’re enjoying beers outside at a barbecue, the pool or a ballgame. All alcohol is dehydrating. Period. Forget all the marketing mumbo jumbo about how beer or wine is thirst-quenching or refreshing. It isn’t. It sucks water out of your body. Not only can this lead to acute dehydration, it is the principal cause of hangovers. Throw out most of those old wives’ tales about hangover remedies; they’re all trying to abate something after it has already occurred. The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink tons and tons of water while you are still drinking alcohol. Ideally, you would drink a glass of water in between each alcoholic beverage. Stay as close to this ratio as possible and you’ll thank me in the morning.

On a related note, it is best to begin drinking with food in your stomach. Eating while drinking is also useful, but giving your body food to start off with will really make for a much more enjoyable evening.

The other useful advice I can offer relates to how our body processes alcohol. When we drink, our body doesn’t have to process alcohol through our digestive system; alcohol passes straight through our stomach lining and into our bloodstream. That’s why we feel the effects of alcohol a few minutes after drinking rather than hours later, which would be the case if our bodies had to digest it. Since alcohol passes through our stomachs, adding carbonation into the mix increases the pressure (bloating) inside our stomach and pushes the alcohol into our bloodstream faster. So even though all alcohol is chemically identical, carbonated alcohol like beer, champagne, and mixed drinks with soda will get us drunk faster than non-sparkling equivalents because the bubbles are tiny little alcohol delivery systems. So be wary of this when drinking carbonated alcohol— it can sneak up on you.

One other little tip is to remember that we can continue getting more drunk up to 45 minutes after we stop drinking. If you drink heavily, your bloodstream can become so saturated with alcohol that it backs up in your stomach. As your body metabolizes the alcohol in your blood, the backup in your stomach will enter your bloodstream and make you more drunk. I’d recommend stopping drinking and hanging out for at least 30 minutes, if not longer, before you make any decisions about driving.

Lastly, don’t drink and drive! In the era of Uber and Lyft, there is no reason to ever risk your safety or the safety of others. If you have to ask yourself whether its safe for you to drive, it isn’t.

Well, that’s it. It all boils down to not being boneheaded. Pace yourself, have some water and food, and don’t drive under the influence. This isn’t a lecture, and I definitely don’t want to discourage you from drinking and having a great time. Lord knows I’ve done that very thing plenty of times! But there is a right way and a wrong way to do it and these are just a few tips from a seasoned pro. So get out there and have an awesome summer full of delicious beers, great fun, and better friends! Be safe and enjoy yourself! Cheers!

-Eric Dunaway, Certified Cicerone ®

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