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The Motherboard Guide to Day Drinking on Thanksgiving

This year, I’m thankful for booze.
November 27, 2014, 6:01am

2014 has been a pretty fucked up year so far, all things considered. Ebola hysteria, ISIS, and climate change deniers taking over the US Senate have all weighed heavily in the hearts of many.

Even so, we all have at least one thing to be grateful for today: booze. Lots and lots of booze.

Thanksgiving is a big day for people who like to enjoy a good fall beer or twelve. How else are you supposed to deal with your racist uncle or weird, tie-dye wearing cousin who won't shut the hell up about the Flaming Lips?


If you're spending the holiday with a misfit crew of friends, the impulse to drink becomes all the more powerful as everyone eventually gives up any sense of propriety and says to themselves, "Screw it, let's party."

At the very least, you might be tempted to knock back a few in a last-ditch effort to stave off the residual head-pounding effects of Black Wednesday partying. Which is, apparently, a real thing, if Urban Dictionary is any kind of official source on this kind of stuff. I don't care, I went out anyway.

Whatever your reasons, you're probably going to drink today. That's why you're here, right? It's okay, we're not here to judge. We're here to help you drink all day without dying, using science. And this time, we talked to Dr. George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to help us do it.

This is the Motherboard guide to day drinking on Thanksgiving.


Image: ​briedgetyoung/Flickr

There's a good chance that this Thanksgiving is a chilly one for some of you. It is for me. If you happen to be browsing the web from a balmy beach somewhere, well, enjoy that sand all up in your ass, I guess.

Sorry, that was the snow talking. This stuff makes people crazy.

In any case, if you're spending the holiday in a premature winter hellscape of snow and ice, you're likely going to want to be cozy. And, if you've internalized a lifetime of folk wisdom and dumb advice from your college friends, you may be tempted to drink alcohol to get warm. Don't do that.


"Alcohol does many things, but keeping you warm is not one of them," Koob told me. "While you get the warm and fuzzy feeling from the initial rise in blood alcohol content, in actual fact, shortly thereafter you're going to feel colder."

The reason for this is that alcohol acts as a vasodilator. Alcohol causes blood vessels to widen and narrow so, at first, your blood pressure will drop and you will feel warmer as your blood circulates closer to the skin. Even though you feel warmer, your core temperature will drop. After a certain point, your blood pressure will spike again and you will feel even colder. Studies on this effect of alcohol on the body have been around for decades.

Pour up your first glass of hard cider, but don't do it just because you're cold. Instead, wear a sweater or cop an excuse to snuggle with your significant other. Trust the science—you'll be more comfortable this way.


Image: Terren in Virginia/Flickr

Thanksgiving is a pretty wonderful day for a lot of reasons—and not so wonderful for many more; if you're celebrating an anti-colonial Thanksgiving this year, more power to you—but one constant binds most of our experiences: stuffing our faces.

Alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream via the small intestine, and having some food chilling in there, digesting away, is a good method to stave off the motor function-annihilating effects of too many dark beers for a while, at least. This is pretty much common knowledge.


But what food should you eat? Depending on your Thanksgiving spread, you might have your pick of healthy vegetables, fatty meats, and carbohydrate-loaded breads. Some organizations, like the US National Library of Medicine, suggest fatty foods or those high in carbohydrates are perfect to stave off the spins. But, according to Koob, in the end it literally does not matter what you eat. Just eat something.

"The old tale that I heard when I was in college was that if you drink a glass of milk before you go out, you can drink a little more and not get so loopy. That's probably true," Koob said. "All foods slow alcohol absorption in your stomach. If you eat a good amount of food, you're going to blunt the peak of your blood alcohol ascending curve, and you will get less intoxicated for the same amount of alcohol."

The milk thing is news to me and kind of weird, but thanks anyway, Dr. Koob. I will go ahead and totally pig out on pretty much everything that crosses my path today while downing drinks. Sometimes, I really love science.


Image:​ Eliot Philips/Flickr

Most of us know from experience that a big Thanksgiving meal often leads to a powerful nap of absurdly life-affirming proportions. This is often credited to the amount of tryptophan—a chemical also sold as a sleep aid—found in turkey. This is a myth. Rather, some studies suggest the effect is more likely due to the decrease in blood flow and oxygenation going to the brain that accompanies any big meal. Others ​point to a number of possi​ble factors, including foods with high glycemic indexes that cause our bodies to first release insulin and then melatonin and signals from the gut to the brain that tell us it's time to hit the showers.

Alcohol is also a known nap-inducer. Washing a big, carbohydrate-loaded meal down with a few dozen ounces of beer or wine is likely to knock you out. Don't fight it. It's inevitable.


"Alcohol is a sedative-hypnotic; everyone's different, but at a certain point it's going to make you sleepy, whether you ate turkey or not," Koob explained. "Alcohol falls into the same domain as other sleep inducers like benzodiazepine. If you're already tired from travelling, and you eat a lot of turkey, but then you add alcohol on top of it—maybe a little more than what you normally drink—you're going to get sleepy."

The best way to get alcohol out of your system is to wait it out, and the body metabolizes alcohol at a rate of about one unit of pure alcohol (10 ml) per hour. Since you've apparently reached a point in your hedonistic holiday binge where you can't stand up or keep your eyes open, it's probably a decent idea to spend that time sleeping.

"If you get a little sleepy after turkey and a drink or two, maybe the best thing to do is watch a movie before you go out to drive and take a little nap," Koob said. "There's no harm in that."

I love food, I love booze, and I love naps. Fuck it—doctor's orders, right?


Image: ​Ryan Hyde: Flickr

I don't care that you're only supposed to drink eggnog around Christmas. I buy it as soon as it hits the shelves in November and you'd better believe I'm dumping rum in it like a pirate on Thanksgiving. Sure, it goes down like some kind of jizz smoothie and has the nutritional value of an atom bomb going off in my arteries, but I can't quit the stuff.

My love of boozy eggnog does have a point here, and a lesson: it always sneaks up on me. Before I know it, I'm totally wasted and laid out on an admittedly putrid but oh-so-sweet cocktail of eggs, sugar and booze.


You might have noticed the same curious effect on your third glass of your seasonal mixed drink of choice, be it a hot toddy or a cup of hot buttered rum.

"You have to be careful that you know the quantity of alcohol in the drink," Koob said. "Because of the sweet taste and yumminess, you can't detect the amount of alcohol in it and your senses don't warn you as opposed to if you were drinking a straight shot of something or drinking a bourbon on the rocks."

It doesn't matter what kind of alcohol you drink, Koob said. The thing to keep track of is the amount of pure alcohol that you're consuming. A standard drink—defined by the National Institute of Health as 14 milliliters of alcohol—will mess you up the same, no matter what form it's in. In other words, a 1.5 oz. shot of 40 percent liquor, a 12 oz. pint of 5 percent beer, and a 5 oz. glass of 12 percent wine will all make you just as drunk.

But sometimes you don't know how much you're getting in a mixed drink. It can even be hard to keep track of yourself, especially with seasonal drinks that you likely don't have much experience dealing with. To minimize your chances of falling victim to an unplanned drunk nap, it might be best to drink your alcohol straight.


Image: ​Deradrian/Flickr

You're in for the long haul here, and it's pretty much a guarantee that at some point during your drunk holiday odyssey, you're going to have an unpleasant interaction with a family member, friend, or complete stranger around the dinner table. You're going to be intoxicated, and you're going to have to deal with it.

Alcohol does a pretty great job of messing with the communication pathways in your brain by inhibiting the chemical communication between neurons in the frontal cortex. This can lead to uninhibited behaviour, which can either mean dancing around in your underwear or a huge blow-out with someone who thinks Reagan was the best president the US has ever had—not so hilarious.

"When that particularly irritating relative starts pompously going off on some subject, you need to be aware that when you're intoxicated, you're going to be less likely to use your frontal cortex to restrain yourself and you might say something sharp in return." Koob warned.

Oftentimes, someone slurring through a speech on "reverse racism" or 9/11 being a false flag operation needs to be shut down without hesitation. But, maybe just this once, do everyone around you a favor and try to keep it to yourself. I know, it's grueling and nigh-impossible, but try.


By now, you should be armed with enough science-based knowledge about drinking to have a marathon Thanksgiving session that doesn't end with you face-down in the pumpkin pie. So, drink as much cider as you can reasonably handle and enjoy the day secure in your knowledge that whatever comes your way—be it a massive feast, a nasty relative, or yet another cup of mulled wine—you'll be ready.