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New Year’s Day: Sobering Up After the Holidays

Written by Dan Wagener | Hosted by Lauren Brande | Published 1/1/18

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Lauren Brande: Welcome back to Let’s Talk Drugs, which is presented by (project k-n-o-w dot com). If you need help with a drug problem, call to start tackling your resolutions today.

First of all, happy new year! New Year’s Day is special. It represents a fresh start and a chance to set resolutions for the coming months. For a lot of people, getting clean is the ultimate resolution, and it can also be one of the most challenging, especially after the holiday season. With so many major holidays coming one right after the other, we get to celebrate for almost two months straight! Friends and family come together, and more often than not, these gatherings center around lavish meals and (you guessed it) alcohol.

Hangovers are just as much a part of the holiday season as chilly weather and hot cocoa. Some of you may even be facing the dreaded beast right now (yikes). Well, let us help you out. In today’s episode, my friend Dan will explain why we get hangovers and what we can do to alleviate them. Take it away, Dan!

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Dan Wagener: It’s a familiar scene on New Year’s Day. You wake up, maybe not sure where you are at first, and open your eyes. You feel pressure behind them, and your head begins to ache—like someone’s drilling a hole through it. You wander into the kitchen, and see empty beer or liquor bottles on the counter. They trigger your memory, and bits and pieces of the night before begin to come back to you.

Binge drinking and hangovers are common during the holiday season. Drinking can occur at family get-togethers, celebrations with friends (think ugly sweaters), and office parties.

Heavy imbibing drinking during the holidays can be seen in statistics on drunk driving. During Christmas and New Year’s, 2 to 3 times more people are killed in crashes involving alcohol than during similar periods during the rest of the year. Forty percent of traffic deaths during these holidays involve an alcohol-impaired driver, compared to 28% for the rest of December.1

There are a lot of reasons why people may drink more over the holidays.

“I think part of it is just that culturally we’re engrained to think that that’s how you celebrate. It’s festive. This is what you do. It’s socially normalized, in a way, and expected. I think it’s also…if you’re traveling back to your hometown, you’re getting together with old friends and people you haven’t seen in a long time, and one of the easiest ways to reconnect is through social lubrication, whether it’s meeting at a bar or having a couple bottles of wine.”

“I think there’s probably different reasons why people drink at holiday times. But primarily it’s probably just to unwind from the stresses of the day to day. And I think also there’s a lot of tradition bound up in the holidays that might encourage people to consume a little bit more over the holidays than they would otherwise.”

“I think it’s a time to cut loose and take a break from the normal routine. And I’m sure for some people, the holidays can trigger past losses that they may have had. They may be missing people that aren’t there. So that might be one reason.”

Dan Wagener: There are all kinds of reasons why people may drink more during the holidays season, but ultimately these reasons can lead to the same thing: binge drinking. What exactly is binge drinking? According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, or NIAAA, binge drinking is defined as 4 drinks for women or 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours.2

In 2016, 65.3 million Americans age 12 and older said they binge drank in the past month, which is almost a quarter of that population.3

So, is binge drinking bad for you?

“I sort of know inherently that it’s bad. However, I find myself on occasion binge drinking. It doesn’t happen a lot, but I tend to think that when it does, I probably downplay it a little bit in my mind. But yeah, I know it’s bad. I think it’s bad. Certainly the more you do it, the worse it is.”

“Definitely liver damage is the number one health effect that I know of. That long-term abuse to your liver and the ability to process the toxins out of your body takes a toll.”

“I think in general it’s bad. I know it’s bad for your liver and that alcohol can contribute to lots of different diseases, possibly cancers.”

Dan Wagener: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that binge drinking can lead to car accidents, alcohol poisoning, STDs, unplanned pregnancies, sexual assault, or even accidental injury like falls or burns.4 How many times have you woken up after a party with a new bruise or limp?

Frequent, or chronic, binge drinking can be even worse, potentially leading to long-lasting health problems like high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, liver disease, memory problems, all kinds of cancer, or even alcoholism.4

According to NIAAA, heavy drinking, even over the course of a few days, can contribute to liver damage by causing fat to build up in the liver. The excessive fat makes it harder for the liver to function and can make it susceptible to inflammation, such as alcoholic hepatitis.5

What’s more, researchers at the University of California San Francisco found binge drinking only 21 times led to signs of early-stage liver disease in mice. Binge drinking caused fatty liver tissue and inflammation. It also increased the number of enzymes that metabolize alcohol, which can harm the liver.6

More recent studies have observed a phenomenon known as “holiday heart,” in which heart arrhythmias, meaning inconsistent beats, are more common after episodes of heavy drinking during weekends or holidays.7 On top of this, pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer have been found to be more common among binge drinkers compared to nondrinkers, particularly men.7

Binge drinkers are also at risk of developing alcoholism. Other risk factors for alcoholism, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, include age, gender, family history, social and cultural factors, race, and mental health disorders.8 This means that a person who is already at risk of developing alcoholism may be putting themselves at even higher risk if they consume more than 4 to 5 drinks in 2 hours, even if it’s only on the weekends or only during the holiday season.

Binge drinkers, and even those of us who occasionally indulge, are acquainted with one of the most common effects of drinking: the dreaded hangover. Anyone who’s had one will tell you that they’re no fun.

“Yeah, the worst one I remember that I’ve ever had was in college. It was a combination of beer and cheap vodka, and the hangover was just horrible. I felt so awful the next day. It took me pretty much the whole day to recover.”

“I can’t pick out one in particular. But in general, tequila hangovers…feel like I’ve been punched in the face, like I can feel it in my eyes.”

“Some days I would just wake up feeling like, ‘Man, that was not a good idea.'”

Dan Wagener: “Hangover” is a general term used to describe the effects a person feels after drinking an excessive amount of alcohol. Some of these effects are unpleasant to say the least: headache, nausea, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, diarrhea, thirst, lethargy, or even mood disturbances like feelings of depression, anxiety, and irritability.9,10

According to Stanford University, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes the body to shed water (aka you pee a lot). This loss of water can lead to dehydration and the increased likelihood of a hangover. A hangover headache is actually caused by the shrinkage of the membrane, or sac, that surrounds the brain due to dehydration.9

Other factors that can contribute to hangovers include congeners, which are natural byproducts of alcohol fermentation; reduction in vitamin B, which can lead to fatigue; drinking on an empty stomach; and mixing drinks.9,10 Some experts even believe that certain personality characteristics, such as neuroticism, anger, and defensiveness, may make people more susceptible to hangovers, as well as a family history of alcoholism.10

Hangovers are miserable. No doubt about it. So what’s the best way to get over them?

“To recover, it was just staying in bed and drinking lots of water, getting a breakfast burrito from the place down the street, giving yourself a pep talk in the mirror to get back at it.”

“The things I did to try to recover from it were getting some fresh air, hydrating, and eating bland foods. But even the combination of all those three things…it took me almost 24 hours to get over it.”

“Stuff I do to recover is hydrate a ton, usually bad food in the morning. Bacon, eggs, something greasy.”

Dan Wagener: Even though they feel like hell, most hangovers fade with time—usually 8 to 24 hours.10 In the meantime, stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water or consume other fluids, such as Gatorade or soup. Get some sleep, and eat bland foods such as toast or crackers, which may help relieve nausea.10,11

If you’re really suffering, certain over-the-counter medications may help with hangover symptoms. Antacids may help with nausea. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may help with headache and muscle aches. But they should be used cautiously because they can make gastrointestinal symptoms worse. Stay away from acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can worsen the effects of alcohol on the liver.10,11

To prevent a hangover, drink slowly and on a full stomach. Watch how much you consume and how quickly you consume it, and drink a glass of water in between drinks.12 Alcoholic drinks that don’t have many congeners such as vodka and gin are linked with fewer hangovers than drinks that contain more congeners such as red wine, brandy, and whiskey.10 But generally, hangovers are associated with drinking more alcohol, regardless of what kind of it is.

Most people view drinking too much on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve, birthdays, or weddings as part of the experience and not something they do every weekend. But for others, binge drinking and hangovers don’t just happen during the holidays. They’re a regular thing.

If you think you might have a problem with drinking, or know someone who might have a problem, look for these signs:13

  • Drinking alone, in the morning, or in secret
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking
  • Drinking to relax, cheer up, sleep, deal with problems, or feel normal
  • Drinking longer than intended or more than you wanted to
  • Spending less time on important activities such as work or school
  • Hiding the extent of the drinking
  • Continuing to drink even though it is causing problems with relationships, employment, or health
  • Building a tolerance to alcohol, so that you have to drink more and more to become intoxicated
  • Changes in appearance, such as not showering or wearing dirty clothes

If you’ve experienced these symptoms, or know someone who has, call to speak to one of our treatment support specialists about programs that can help you stop drinking and get your life back on track. There’s no better time than New Year’s, right?

It can be hard to admit you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol. But the longer the problem continues, the greater the risk for harmful effects on your health, relationships, job, and other areas of your life. There are programs out there that can help you quit drinking and find ways to stay sober. Sometimes a hangover isn’t just a hangover. Sometimes, it’s a cry for help.

* * *

Lauren Brande: Well, that was a sobering report. Thank you, Dan! Now that we know how to cure these nasty hangovers, make sure you take an honest look at your drinking habits. Admitting when there’s a problem is one of the most important steps to conquer, and there’s no better time than the beginning of a fresh new year. You can do this.

We’d love to hear from you, so share your new year’s resolutions with us on our brand new 2018 debut Instagram, letstalkdrugspodcast (yayyy)! Use #letstalkdrugs to connect with us, and as always, subscribe and share!

Next Time on Let’s Talk Drugs…

New Episode Coming Monday, January 15th

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If you’re struggling with drugs or alcohol, don’t wait until it’s too late to seek help. Call us at to discuss your treatment options and get started on your recovery journey today.

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