Here’s what you need to know about New Year’s Eve drinking – and Jan. 1 hangovers

In 2023, new research confirmed that no amount of alcohol is good for our health. For those who still plan on ending the year with a bang (or cork pop), there are steps that can be taken to reduce achy feelings the next day.

For decades, New Year’s Eve revelers might have found comfort in the notion that having a drink or two not only doesn’t hurt, but could actually come with health benefits. No longer.

Among the most buzz-killing developments of 2023 is an accumulation of evidence that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe for our health. Even small intakes can trigger troublesome impacts on our well-being.

“The risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, a doctor and official with the World Health Organization, in a statement. In January, the WHO published a warning around alcohol consumption in The Lancet Public Health journal. Two months later a new report stressed that even moderate drinking increases the risk of dying prematurely.

The new research wipes away the cherished memory of past studies that suggested there were health benefits to the occasional drinks.

Those findings, as it turns out, were flawed. Most studies could not prove cause and effect between moderate drinking and better health outcomes. It didn’t help that, over the years, the alcohol industry’s role in funding research came to light. (It’s still true that red-wine, the darling of many of the more optimistic studies, contains a protective antioxidant called resveratrol, but as Atlanta-area dietitian and nutrition expert Cheryl Orlansky points out, “you can get resveratrol in red grapes, blueberries and plums without the effects of alcohol.”)

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dr. Warren Thompson, a Mayo Clinic-affiliated expert, explained that drinking affects the body in harmful ways because alcohol is a toxin.

Recent research has found that even low levels of alcohol intake slightly boosts the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Alcohol can cause damage to the liver and the pancreas. It is also known to be a direct cause of seven different cancers (alcohol is a “Group 1 carcinogen” – the highest risk group, which also includes asbestos, radiation, and tobacco).

“I would say another important point is that alcohol affects sleep adversely,” Thompson said. “And this is particularly true when people have two drinks or more. And that’s not good for the brain. People will sleep better if they keep their alcohol (intake) to one drink a day or less.”

Experts don’t advocate total abstinence but rather making efforts to gradually drink less. Current CDC guidelines recommend that Americans choose not to drink – or to limit their drinking to two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women.

“My advice to people who consume alcohol is to keep it to one drink or less. For those people who are at high risk for cancer, it probably would be advisable not to consume alcohol at all,” Thompson said.

But if you insist

For most people, the more immediate health repercussions of alcohol consumption will manifest in hangover symptoms. That may be the case for many AJC readers come January 1st. For those who may want to celebrate the year’s end with a drink (or two, or three), there are science-backed steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of morning-after misery.

Eating before drinking can slow down the absorption of alcohol in your system and may help prevent hangovers. It is also important to drink plenty of water the day of and throughout the evening when drinking.

“Always include more water in your day when you drink alcoholic beverages,” said Marisa Moore, an Atlanta-based dietitian and nutritionist. “Festive ways to add water include adding club soda to white wine for a fizzy, fun spritzer or sipping on a flavored sparkling water with lime before and after a cocktail.”

According to Orlansky, your choice of alcohol can also impact how rough you may feel the next day.

She says lighter-colored drinks such as vodka, gin, and light-colored beers might be gentler on your system. Steering clear of sugar is also a good call.

“Mixers with high sugar content like juice and soda can contribute to dehydration and worsen hangovers.”

After drinking, getting some carbohydrates into your system may alleviate hangover symptoms. Coffee or tea may also help with next-day grogginess.

Orlansky recommends replenishing electrolytes by drinking sports drinks or eating foods rich in potassium and sodium.

“Coconut water and certain fruits like bananas and oranges can be good choices,” she said.

Pain relievers may help with headaches, but it is important to steer clear of acetaminophen (Tylenol). If alcohol is still lingering in your system, taking acetaminophen could be harmful to your liver.

Getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce the effects of a hangover the following day. Orlanksy suggests waking up to a “recovery meal.”

“Eat a nutritious meal the next morning to replenish essential nutrients. Foods rich in whole unrefined carbohydrates, protein, and fat can be helpful like a veggie omelet, fruit and whole grain toast with avocado.”