The Elusive Cure for the Hangover?
It’s happened to most of us. We’ve all said never again. Somehow though, we never really remember that throbbing pain, that anxious waking reflection as we mentally audit the activities of the night before, the loss of a day we’ll never get back.
In most cases, the hangover subsides and the memories of a “good night” remain. It’s a price we pay. A kind of Faustian bargain, the yin to a hedonistic yang that nature has somehow mandated.
In some cases however, there is a much greater price. Long after the throbbing pain resides, there can be the pain of regret. It might be a friendship ruined, a reputation destroyed or in extremes, the loss of an innocent life.
Today alcohol is often portrayed in terms of its negative effects and painted to be detrimental to society. In reality, the vast majority of drinkers are quite moderate and experience little or no harm from their own consumption of alcoholic beverages. Because of a minority, the social aspects are often overlooked and alcohol as a whole has become somewhat demonised.
Despite this portrayal, Australians spend around $14b a year on alcohol. To put this in context, that’s 14 times what we spend on tea & coffee, 2.8 times what we spend on fashion, 1.3 times what we spend on personal care & 1.5 times what we spend on gadgets. (ABS).
If we look back historically the consumption of alcohol has been a point of disagreement since the late 18th century. It’s hard to dispute that with sensible use, moderate amounts of alcohol have a positive role in social bonding. It is believed that for this reason, drinking customs have survived from early times despite the dangers of abuse and the disagreement across some sections of society.
Blood alcohol concentration or BAC, is how much alcohol you have in grams per 100ml of blood. It ’s the standard measurement that we use to gauge the effects of alcohol.
We’re all familiar with .05 which is the legal limit for the majority of drivers. What we aren’t so familiar with is how BAC affects us in other areas.
Examining the table below can be somewhat enlightening and goes some way to explaining the conflicting societal perceptions on alcohol consumption.
In NSW for example, intoxication is defined as a blood alcohol level of .15. This level reflects high range drink driving and is used in the new one punch law. Intoxication is the point where many people turn into the stereotypical ugly drunk. In fact, even before this a BAC of .10 is where things start to get rather embarrassing and pretty much the point where you are going to lose the next day to the misery of a hangover.
Awareness is Key
From the table, we can see various behavioural delineations. We can see there’s some type of logic and maybe an answer to how we can banish hangovers and anti-social behaviour for good.
So what to do? How do we get awareness & understanding of the effects of alcohol ingrained? It is extremely hard to monitor and calculate what you have been drinking when in a social situation. Add to this, the typical “if this is good, then more is better” approach that people just naturally have, then you can see how problems can happen. One more very often leads to one more.
A big difference in our lives today is technology. People carry a convenient pocket sized computer with them everywhere. It’s hard to look around a room without seeing people somewhat transfixed to these devices.
Enter Boozed? a new iPhone app widget. The idea behind the Boozed? app is to raise awareness and encourage safe, enjoyable drinking. Without even needing to unlock your phone, you can record a drink and instantly see how it is going to affect you. The process takes about 2 seconds. As it is so convenient and easy, drinks can be accurately recorded. A single swipe at any time will also show you your current estimated BAC over the next 3 hours. This allows an informed decision whether to have another drink or sit this one out with a water. Not for the purpose of driving, but to ensure safe drinking and an enjoyable night for you and those around you. It really is possible to get the enjoyable parts of drinking without the hangovers and other dire consequences. Boozed?shows you how.
First a Terminology Primer
BAC = Blood Alcohol Concentration. This is how much alcohol you have in grams per 100ml of blood.
eBAC = Estimated Blood Alcohol Concentration. An established formula used to calculate BAC based on anthropormphic data, time and recorded alcohol units.
BrAC = Breath Alcohol Concentration. How much alcohol in grams you have per 210 litres of breath.
How Does it Work?
It uses a mathematical formula commonly used in forensic toxicology. The original formula was based on work done by Widmark in the early 1930s and has been advanced over the years in numerous scientific studies.
What Does This Mean?
It is an established physiological fact that alcohol distributes itself in the total water of your body. It then gets eliminated mainly by metabolism in your liver.
1. Alcohol is absorbed into the body via the stomach & small intestine. Time varies somewhat depending on a full or empty stomach. The app calculates absorption via a formula based on the time recorded and assumes an absorption rate based on an empty stomach. Full stomach calculations imply the stomach was filled before drinking therefore we err on the side of caution.
2. After being absorbed, alcohol is distributed in the total water of the body. On average males have 58% of their body weight as water and females 49%. This percentage varies, younger people have a higher proportion of body water, though this is more significant for males. Leaner people have more body weight as water and overweight people less. On average, blood itself is composed of 80.6% water. By use of a formula, the BAC can then be calculated.
3. Alcohol is primarily disposed of by your liver. This takes place at a constant rate per hour, a common average being around .015 decline in blood alcohol concentration per hour. The prime factor in metabolism rate is recent drinking history as a healthy liver will generate more enzymes to aid in the process when you drink more frequently over a period of time (usually several months). By calculating the rate and time of metabolism a nett BAC can then be calculated at given points in time.
Benefits Over Other Calculations
Most websites, calculators and apps rely on recall. Calculations are normally how many standard drinks did you have and when did you start drinking?
Russ et al. 1986 found a relationship between higher BAC and the likelihood of an underestimation of the number of drinks consumed indicating a hypothesis of longer drinking episodes might be related to greater discrepancy because as time increases there is a higher probability that error will be introduced in recreating details of the drinking episodes.
Babor et al., 2000 found that eBACs can only be as accurate as the self-report data used in the calculation. In general, self-report is susceptible to inaccuracy as a result of (1) poor recall, (2) mental confusion, (3) inadequately designed assessment measures and (4) intoxication at the time of assessment.
Williams and Rundell, 1984 found as intoxication increases, the accuracy of encoding details is likely to decrease.Even with accurate recall, the common calculation based on entering number of standard drinks and total drinking time is flawed as the actual time of each drink is not taken into account.
What sets Boozed? apart is that it allows instantaneous capture. As soon as you have a new drink in hand, you can add the new drink in a couple of seconds without needing to unlock your iPhone.
Benefits Over Portable Breathalysers
The primary issue with portable breathalysers is inconvenience and that they are awkward in a social interaction.
Carey and Hustad (2002) found no significant mean differences between eBAC & BrAC. The results indicated that eBACs are significantly related to BrAC at BrACs at 0.08 and less.
At higher levels of BAC, breathalysers are more accurate, but the purpose of Boozed? is to help you avoid getting to higher levels of BAC in the first place.
First up, let’s be clear that if you are going to drive, then you really shouldn’t drink. Further, there is no personal method of measuring BAC that will stand up in a court of law.
Secondly, this is not about enticing people to use alcohol. It’s to ensure that people that have made the adult choice that they want to enjoy alcohol but want to avoid the more negative aspects of drinking.
Thirdly, Boozed? won’t be of much use as a boasting tool for intoxication. As soon as you hit .1 you will see a big red BAD reading until you return below this level.
Having said all that, we have found with the use of the Boozed? app taking a couple of seconds before taking a sip of each drink and staying within a sensible BAC pretty much means the end of the hangover.
Download the Boozed? from iTunes store.