So, you've got your fancy pants on. You're heading to the holiday party, and you're intent on impressing your bosses, in-laws, or significant other's friends with your worldliness and savoir-faire. Then you get too drunk, break stuff, offend people, get fired and/or dumped, and effectively ruin your life.
It didn't have to be this way. Here are a few practical tips to help you avoid being "that guy."
It's the weekend, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Let's do some stupid-proofing.
To avoid an embarrassing state of drunkenness, let's first look at how the body metabolises alcohol. The science-minded boffins at the National Institutes of Health have this to say:
After alcohol is swallowed, it is absorbed primarily from the small intestine into the veins that collect blood from the stomach and bowels and from the portal vein, which leads to the liver. From there it is carried to the liver, where it is exposed to enzymes and metabolized... BAC [Blood-Alcohol Content] is influenced by environmental factors (such as the rate of alcohol drinking, the presence of food in the stomach, and the type of alcoholic beverage) and genetic factors (variations in the principal alcohol-metabolizing enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase [ADH] and aldehyde dehydrogenase [ALDH2]).
Armed with that knowledge, we can plan our attack.
This is absolutely essential. Drinking on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, a rookie mistake. Have yourself a big, hearty dinner before the party. If you know you won't have time to go do that and come back, bring a big sandwich with you in the morning so you can wolf it pre-party. Because BAC is affected by gastric emptying rates, try to put something more substantial in there. Proteins and fats take longer to digest, so they'll stay with you longer and continue to work their anti-spins magic. Mini-sliders may save your bacon. If they're available, keep snacking on hors d'oeuvres throughout the party.
Obviously, ABV (alcohol by volume) is critical in determining how drunk you'll get, but there are other factors, too. Red wine and darker spirits like whiskey generally contain more congeners than clear, i.e. chemicals that can give you a headache and add to your sense of inhibition after just an hour or two. People react differently, so you may want to do some spot testing before game-day. Also, avoid sugary drinks. They'll spike your blood-sugar levels, and then you'll crash, again leading to tiredness and/or headaches long before the party is over. Plus they fill you up and leave less room for better stuff.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you pee more, which can lead to dehydration. Not only does this lead to hangovers, but a dehydrated brain doesn't function as well, which will compound your feeling of drunkenness. Water is your friend. Not soft drinks, water. Aim to have one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume. It's hard to do it, and you will pee quite a lot, but try. The more you dry out, the harder thinking straight will become, and that will lead you down a nasty path very quickly.
Have you ever noticed that when you're tired, one drink can hit you like it was three? There are a number of contributing factors here. Part of it is just that when you're tired, thinking clearly is more difficult. Ever heard the phrase "sleep drunk"? The symptoms of exhaustion can manifest themselves in a manner similar to drunkenness. Adding alcohol to the equation only amplifies this effect. But there's something else going on as well.
According to the University of Rochester:
General fatigue or tiredness will lead to a higher BAC than normal as one's liver is less efficient at processing and/or eliminating alcohol when one's general energy level is low. Furthermore, as alcohol is a depressant, consuming alcohol when tired will, in general, simply increase one's level of tiredness while magnifying alcohol's traditional effects.
Tiredness = increased drunkenness = you lose. Get as much sleep as possible the night before.
When you're whizzing like a donkey every ten minutes, you aren't just losing water, you're losing some important nutrients. Depletion of these nutrients can lead to hangover symptoms kicking in while you're still at the party, dramatically decreasing your drinking abilities and social skills. B vitamins are one of the first things alcohol sucks out of your body. You're also going to needs some electrolytes. Those little pouches of Emergen-C are perfect for this. They're cheap, they're electrolyte-balanced, it's easy to keep a couple in your pocket, AND they have all the B vitamins you need. Very handy at parties.
Like Jack n' Cokes or Vodka Red Bulls to give you a little extra pep? Watch out. While it's true that caffeine will keep you more awake, it will not keep you more sober. In fact, this goes against the "listen to your body rule," because you are artificially tricking it into thinking it's better off than it is. This can lead to too much drinking, too fast, and serious black-out experiences. You're also going to be drunker than you think you are and are more likely to do something stupid. Additionally, caffeine is a diuretic, like alcohol, so it will further dehydrate you and increase your chances of getting the spins faster. We're not saying we never do this, we're just saying that you should be careful when you do. Four Loko was banned for a reason.
This is a tough one to recommend, but it works. Seasoned, well-practiced drinkers can drink more (generally). Alcohol is a toxin, and our bodies adapt to metabolise and deal with it. That kind of adaptation takes time and repetition. The more tolerant we are to the toxin, the slower our bodies try to break it down, and thus the slower the rate at which it is absorbed into our bloodstreams. According to DUI Fighters "This rate varies considerably between individuals; experienced male drinkers with a high body mass may process up to 30 grams (38 mL) per hour, but a more typical figure is 10 grams (12.7 mL) per hour."
So if you know that you're going to a wild party in two weeks, you can slowly get your body used to the alcohol by drinking more during that period. Staying totally sober for two weeks to "get ready for the party" will be like going 0 to 60 way faster than your body can handle. Don't binge, but do drink enough to build a tolerance to the chemicals. Afterward, detox.
Obviously, the most important thing to do here is think. There's a fine line between "life of the party" and "obnoxious idiot." Don't get into some kind of alcoholic pissing-contest with your coworkers or relatives—that is a lose-lose situation. Use your head, take it slow and easy, have fun, then take a friggin' cab home. That recipe should ensure you're invited to many more holiday parties for years to come.