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Millennium Buzz
December 30, 1999
shopping for champagne

The millennium New Year’s Eve celebrations are arguably the most hyped and anticipated parties of the century. And many of the revelers will be drinking alcohol, be it champagne at midnight or rum and cokes throughout the evening. The question is, how can one celebrate from dinnertime to midnight without getting so intoxicated that you can’t stand up? Scientific research gives some insight into what happens when we drink, which could help keep your night from being one that you’d rather forget... or can’t remember at all.

This Is Your Brain On Alcohol...

Dr. Scott Lukas of McLean Hospital in Boston studies electroencephalographs (EEGs) to find a relationship between alcohol and brain waves called alpha waves. By watching a person’s alpha waves both before and while the person drinks, Lukas can see the areas of the brain that alcohol affects—and it turns out it’s not like a fried egg after all.

drunk brain/sober brain
image: Scott Lucas

"One thing we’ve noticed in an individual who’s drinking a small amount of alcohol is, first of all, they’ll feel good or high or giddy or euphoric, and that’s typically what people are looking for," he says.?"When we measure the brain electrical activity at the same time the person is reporting eurphoria, we find an increase in the alpha activities.... We think that particular profile of increased alpha activity may be associated with the reward mechanisms."

The problem is that this euphoric stage can be fleeting. While at first you might feel stimulated when drinking, if you drink too much too fast and your blood-alcohol level rises, things will go downhill.

"Unfortunately most individuals haven’t learned that," says Lukas. "And what they do is they think, ’I want to get intoxicated, I want to get drunk, I want to get high really quickly.’ And so they very quickly down a couple of beers and they’ll go right past that euphoria phase I was just describing. They’ll miss it completely, and they’ll get very intoxicated."

Riding the Waves?

Alcohol is actually considered a depressant. If you drink too much, you could suffer from impaired judgment and reaction time, slurred speech, blurred vision and loss of balance and, eventually, loss of consciousness. Lukas says the trick is to pace yourself. By keeping your blood-alcohol level within a certain range—perhaps one drink every hour or so—you should be able to avoid going past the euphoria stage.

"I would love it if everybody knew out there that they could metabolize one drink an hour," says Lukas, "and they had a little watch and it was set to an hour. And when that watch beeps, they can have one drink and then they can’t have another drink for until that watch beeps again."

Fireworks 3
image: ABC

Some other practical tips for a safe New Year’s (or any night) on the town:

  • Use the buddy system—set limits with friends and make each other stick to them.
  • Set aside some cash for a cab, or choose a designated driver before drinking.
  • Take a nap before the evening’s festivities begin—especially if you had to get up very early for work that morning.
  • Save the champagne for midnight, and try to drink non-carbonated drinks, since carbonation causes the body to absorb alcohol faster.
  • Put lots of ice in your drinks to dilute them.
  • Alternate your alcoholic drinks with water—this should help you stay in that one drink per hour range and the extra water could help you avoid a hangover.
  • Take your time, savoring the drinks rather than just drinking for the alcohol.

But whatever you drink while you wait for the infamous ball to come down, have a safe and happy New Year!

Elsewhere on the web:

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Study identifies a new cell membrane where alcohol may act

Alcohol Researchers Identify New Medication That Lessens Relapse Risk

Alcohol: The Inside Story, from New Scientist

by STN2

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