How a Hangover Affects Your Brain the Next Day

We all know we shouldn't drink and drive. But what about hopping behind the wheel the morning after you've been drinking? According to a new meta-analysis, even this could be problematic, as the effects of alcohol on our brains may linger even after the chemical has left our bloodstream.

The meta-analysis, which was published Aug. 25 in the journal Addiction, found that a night of heavy drinking may affect people's cognition the next day, including their memory, attention, coordination and even driving skills.

"Our findings demonstrate that [having a] hangover can have serious consequences for the performance of everyday activities such as driving, and workplace skills such as concentration and memory," senior study author Sally Adams, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, in the United Kingdom, said in a statement.

It's well-known that drinking alcohol can temporarily impair thinking and coordination while a person is intoxicated. But whether drinking alcohol impairs cognition the next day — i.e., when a person is  hungover — is less clear, with studies on the topic finding conflicting results.

In the meta-analysis, the researchers analyzed data from 19 previous studies involving more than 1,100 people. All of the studies tested people's thinking abilities the day after they had drunk heavily, when their blood-alcohol level was less than 0.02 percent. (For comparison, the legal blood-alcohol limit for driving a car in the United States is 0.08 percent.)

Some of the studies were conducted in a laboratory — meaning that researchers gave people precise amounts of alcohol before testing their thinking abilities; other studies were "naturalistic," meaning that researchers told people to come to the lab after a typical night of social drinking.

The study found that, overall, people who were hungover had poorer attention, memory and coordination skills, compared with those who weren't hungover. A few of the studies tested people's driving ability using a driving simulation. The studies found that when people were hungover, their ability to control a vehicle was impaired, compared with when they were not hungover.

Although many people think that it's fine to drive the morning after a night of drinking, "it might be that we're still impaired the next day, even after the alcohol has left our system," Adams said.

Overall, the findings suggest that "some of the things that you might expect to happen with your thought processes on alcohol may continue throughout into the hangover period," said lead author Craig Gunn, also of the University of Bath's Department of Psychology. This means that if you're a student attending a lecture, you might not be able to remember things as well when you're hungover, compared with when you're not hungover, Gunn said. And if you're driving a car, you might not be able to react as efficiently to a red light, he said.

Still, the researchers noted that some of the studies did not take into account other factors that could affect thinking abilities, such as smoking or sleep deprivation. The researchers called for further studies testing the effects of alcohol on cognition, particularly on people's "executive functions," which include decision-making and problem solving.

More research is also needed on the effect of hangovers on workplace safety and productivity, the researchers said. They noted that although many workplaces have policies prohibiting intoxication on the job, few of these policies cover the next-day effects of alcohol.

By Rachael Rettner

Original Article:

Why it's best to think twice before asking: 'Fancy a drink?'

Do you fancy a drink? I know I do. October is my birthday month and ordinarily I’d be spending most of it using being another year older as an excuse for champagne. Not this year, however. This year, I’m “going sober for October”. 

Forget Dry January, October is now officially the month of abstinence. It started with Stoptober, which was aimed at helping people wanting to give up smoking. Then Stoptober’s backers, Macmillan Cancer Support, introduced Sober October, wherein participants commit to a month of not drinking to raise funds for the charity’s work.

This month won’t be the first I’ve had off alcohol this year. I took four weeks off drinking from the middle of August too. I’d like to say that it was a concern for my health that drove this decision, but in reality, it was driven by vanity. This year’s unexpectedly beautiful summer had a surprising impact on my drinking habits. There was a festival feeling to London’s sunny streets that called for pink wine, Aperol Spritz and long, cold beers. It suddenly seemed reasonable to approach another Wednesday night in Balham like the first night of an all-inclusive holiday in Antigua. I had a great time. But then I saw the photographs. I needed beer goggles to be able to bear looking at them.

So I decided to quit for a month, bookended by two big parties. I didn’t think it would be difficult. I grew up in a pretty much teetotal household. As a student, I hardly touched a drop (couldn’t afford to). Throughout my twenties, I drank perhaps once a week. Even during my thirties, when I took my Wine and Spirits Education Trust exams and wrote a book about the champagne world, I don’t think I was ever properly drunk. Yet in my forties, it seems somehow harder to turn a drink down. Alcohol seems like the solution to an awful lot of problems. From a looming deadline to feeling nervous at a party full of strangers, there is nothing booze can’t make better. And, as the saying goes, no great story ever started with a salad. 

Readjusting to a booze-free lifestyle while the sun was still shining as if Britain was Ibiza was surprisingly hard. Reading other people’s experiences helped. One book in particular resonated with me. In The Sober Diaries, Clare Pooley describes how she stayed off the sauce for a year (and dealt with breast cancer while she was at it). Pooley isn’t the sort of woman who immediately springs to mind when most of us think of someone with an alcohol problem. A former advertising executive, happily married with three children, Pooley’s epiphany came when she found herself drinking red wine from a mug bearing the legend “The World’s Best Mum” one Sunday morning. My life is quite different from Pooley’s but I recognised much in her lament about the ubiquity of alcohol in our society. 

She asked: “Is it possible to live without alcohol in a world where you’re more likely to be offered a glass of wine at a play date than a cup of tea? Where Facebook is filled with references to ‘wine o’clock’? Where every social event is fuelled by gallons of booze? Is there life after wine?”

Another thing I recognised in Pooley’s memoir was her obsession with finding an alcohol substitute with which she could kid herself she was still having a “proper” drink. The drinker’s equivalent of “fat free” yogurt, if you like. Pooley turns again and again to the Becks Blue.

Meanwhile, I became obsessed with finding San Bitter or Crodino, two non-alcoholic aperitifs that are dead ringers for Campari and Aperol Spritz respectively. I tracked them down to an Italian deli in Knightsbridge where I bought six tiny bottles of each for rather more than I would ever have splashed on a bottle of wine. 

Actor and author Michael Maisey spent most of his teenage years and his early twenties in and out of prison thanks to a lifestyle predicated on his drink and drug addictions. Now sober for more than 10 years, Maisey is wary of using “no alcohol” drinks as a substitute. He says that for him, a “no alcohol” beer is too much of a trigger. Instead, he suggests that if you find yourself reaching for a drink, you fast-forward the tape of the evening ahead in your mind. “If I have this drink at seven o’clock, where will I be at 10? Probably shit-faced. If I’m shit-faced at 10, where will I be at midnight? Probably at some party, snorting coke. If I’m snorting coke at midnight, where will I be the next day? I know I’ll have a skinful of regret.”

I’m aware that there’s a world of difference between giving up alcohol for a month for reasons of vanity and trying to give up for good to save your life. If you’re regularly reaching for the bottle first thing in the morning, then you don’t need Sober October, you need to speak to your GP. There will be people reading this who think that giving up for a month is just posturing, virtue-signalling perhaps. More about looking good than being good. Ultimately pointless?

Maisey, who stays sober with the help of a 12-step programme, is not so judgmental about the month-off gimmick. He’s all for anything that helps anyone to look at their drinking habits more closely. There’s merit in anything that helps you to know yourself better, to be able recognise your triggers and the patterns of unhelpful behaviour that ensue when you ignore them. If you’re having a Sober October, Maisey suggests that you approach giving up drinking in the same way as any fitness goal. Surround yourself with like-minded people for a start. You won’t find them in the pub but you can certainly find support online on blogs such as Pooley’s. She blogs as SoberMummy. 

I tried Maisey’s fast-forward visualisation technique for myself. My trajectory didn’t look like his but it still didn’t look good. Gin and tonic at seven, wine at eight, snoring on the sofa by 10, waking with a cricked neck at two, followed by three hours of lying awake battling existential angst in the darkness, followed by a day of worrying about what I’d said the night before and failing to get stuff done. My relationship with alcohol wasn’t killing me but it was definitely standing in the way of many of my most-cherished goals. 

As Pooley says in her TED Talk: “When you drink to blur all the edges of life, you blur all the good bits too.”

So this October, I’m going to be living by my bastardisation of Kate Moss’s famous comment about overeating (or “eating” as we non-supermodels like to call it): “Nothing tastes as good as waking up without a hangover feels.” And this year, my birthday gift to myself is going to be a clear head the following morning. 

By Christine Manby

Original Article:

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