However, while I was challenging myself to back up this mathematical statement with numbers (maybe I'll make a second post about it with the math!) I took a diversion off into hangover land. I rarely get hangovers - I suppose I'm lucky in that respect - but I was curious what promotes hangovers. So I read "The Alcohol Hangover" by Wiese et al. 2000. It's a review paper of the state of Hangover Science, in 2000. If anyone has a newer paper, I'd be curious to read it.
First, I was shocked to find out how much hangovers cost the economy - 148 Billion Dollars a year in decreased productivity and absenteeism. That's staggeringly huge, and so it seems to suggest whatever we can do to treat hangovers is well advised, to reduce this economic burden.
Second, there isn't a very good definition of what a Hangover is. Some symptoms include Headache, Poor sense of being, Diarrhoea, Loss of Apatite, Fatigue and Nausea, but even the most common feature, headache, is only reported in 66% of hangovers. I wonder if people who suffer, say, Diarrhoea when they are hungover one one instance are more likely to have it in other hangovers. Does it vary person to person, or episode to episode? Sadly, anecdote fails me here; I think a full study would be needed.
A study referenced in Wiese's paper suggests that far from reduce alcohol intake, not only is there no evidence that hangover incidence decreases rates of alcohol intake, but there are indications that it may prompt further alcohol intake! Think of "The Hair of the Dog" type of treatment. Obviously, if we consider this early morning drinking a societal ill, we should work on reducing the overall incidences of hangovers.
Here's something else counter-intuitive: According to a variety of sources cited in the paper, light to moderate drinkers (those of 0 to 3 drinks/day for men, and 0 to 1 for women) are 70% more likely to experience hangover symptoms than heavier drinkers.
Very little is known about about hangover causes, since it's not strictly dose-dependant with respect to the Ethanol (alcohol) content of a drink. Those sayings about never mixing beer with wine are all total garbage, more or less. There are some factors, among which are Acetaldehyde, a metabolite of ethanol, and congeners, which are impurities from ethanol production that include tannins, acetone, phenolics, etc. But it seems clear from this paper (and another that I read) that it's all a bit of a black box, still. What does and doesn't cause it is terribly mysterious. And Wiese et al. is very clear that the research into hangover alleviation is suggestive, but muddy still.
But if you do want to prevent hangovers, there's one other thing you can do; I'd offer you this quote, then:
Clear liquors, such as rum, vodka, and gin, tend to cause hangover less frequently, which may explain why patients with chronic alcoholism use these liquors disproportionately. In an experimental setting, 33%% of patients who consumed 1.5 g/kg of body weight of bourbon (which has high congeners) but only 3%% of those who consumed the same dose of vodka (which has low congeners) experienced severe hangover (41).Maybe all those vodka snobs are onto something. But I would caution you, before you throw out all your bourbon, that a 2010 paper didn't replicate those results.
Wiese JG, Shlipak MG, & Browner WS (2000). The alcohol hangover. Annals of internal medicine, 132 (11), 897-902 PMID: 10836917