Healthy living

Whisky hangovers worse than vodka ones

Zone default image Congeners in drinks to blame

A hangover caused by downing too much whisky will hurt more than one caused by drinking vodka, scientists say.

Many alcoholic drinks contain toxic by-products of fermentation called congeners such as acetone, acetaldehyde and tannins.

"While the toxic chemicals called congeners could be poisonous in large amounts, they occur in very small amounts in alcoholic beverages," explained Dr Damaris J. Rohsenow, from the Centre for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University.

"There are far more of them in the darker distilled beverages and wines than in the lighter coloured ones. While the alcohol alone is enough to make many people feel sick the next day, these toxic natural substances can add to the ill effects as our body reacts to them."

So they looked at how bourbon and vodka affect people the morning after. Bourbon, an American whisky contains around 37 times more congeners than vodka.

In the study, 95 healthy, heavy drinkers were given either the whisky or vodka to drink. The volunteers' breath was tested to ensure they reached the same level of drunkenness. Others were given non-alcoholic drinks for comparison.

Unsurprisingly, the alcoholic drinks resulted in hangovers for the volunteers - all experienced feelings of headache, nausea, general lousiness, thirst and fatigue. But whisky was found to result in worse hangover symptoms than vodka.

As both drinks caused the volunteers to wake up during the night, the more severe symptoms couldn't be explained by lack of sleep, the researchers said.

And regardless of how rough they felt, the volunteers were equally bad at performing tasks requiring concentration.

"While people felt worse, they didn't perform worse after bourbon than after vodka.

"However, people were not aware that they were performing worse since they thought their driving ability was not impaired in the morning even though they could not react as well," said Dr Rohsenow.

"Many safety-sensitive occupations require that workers be able to pay close attention to a number of tasks over a period of time, and to respond quickly with the right choices, and drinking to excess was found to impair this performance just after alcohol had left people's bodies," she added.

This article was published on Mon 21 December 2009

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