The Science Of The Spins

Given that today is New Year’s Eve — what I generally refer to as Amateur Drinking Day — I thought this science lesson from Mental Floss on what causes the spins was an appropriate topic. In Why Does Alcohol Cause the Spins?, author Matt Soniak explains that sometimes after an evening’s drinking that the room appears to be spinning out of control. You lie down, but it doesn’t help. No matter what you do, the vertigo persists, causing great discomfort and often the loss of lunch, dinner and everything else that used to be in your stomach. Here’s why.

The spins happen because of an odd effect alcohol has on your ears — specifically, on three tiny, fluid-filled structures called the semicircular canals. Inside each of these canals is a fluid called endolymph and a gelationous structure called the cupula, which is filled with cells covered in fine, hair-like stereocilia.

As you move around, the movement of the endolymph lags behind the more solid cupula, distorting and bending it — and those little hairs. When the hairs bend, the electrical signal they send to your brain is altered, helping you to make sense of the rotations your head experiences on each of the three planes the canals sit on — movements up and down, left and right and backward and forward — and keep your balance.

Booze throws this system out of whack. Alcohol thins the blood, and when boozy blood travels to the inner ear, it creates a density difference between the cupula and the fluid in the canals, and distorts the cupula’s shape. The little hairs bend and send a signal to your brain that tells it you’re rotating when you’re really not, and this illusion of motion makes it seem like the room is spinning.

Some of the things that you most want to do when you’re good and drunk, like lie down and close your eyes, make the sensation worse, since you don’t have any visual or physical cues to counteract the false sense of motion. Looking at a fixed object and keeping your feet planted on the ground can help lessen the effect, but there’s no real way to stop it.

So now you know. The bad news is there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it apart from practicing moderation and drinking plenty of water. If I know I’ll be drinking a lot, I try to eat a hearty meal beforehand, drink a glass of water in between each beer, snack during the party and take some Advil and Vitamin B before going to sleep. Happy New Year everybody.

Maybe this will help; maybe not.


Hangover Cure News

If you’ve ever looked at the science behind hangovers or endured enough of them, you probably already know that time is really the only cure for one. But when you’re feeling that bad, hope tends to spring eternal; and so hangover cures represent a pretty healthy business, bringing in untold millions of dollars. A hungover fool and his money are soon parted.

We all have our own preferred remedy. Mine is entirely preventative. Before going to bed, I take three Advils and a B-vitamin. More often than not, I wake up feeling fine. I also drink a lot of water, both during a drinking session and before retiring. I don’t think of it as a cure — indeed, I don’t believe there can actually be a cure — but for me it tends to head off the symtoms before they manifest themselves as discomfort or downright pain.

But companies keep taking P.T. Barnum’s prophetic words and proving them true, playing on our desire to do just about anything to speed up the recovery from a bad hangover. And in fact, two new ones are in the news today.


Several news outlets, such as the NY Daily News, have the story that Blowfish tablets, recently approved by the FDA, is on the market, available for sale over-the-counter. The effervescent tablets “combine 1,000 milligrams of aspirin, 120 milligrams of caffeine and a stomach-soothing agent” which you dissolve in water the morning after. “Once dissolved in water, the remedy claims to knock out multiple hangover symptoms in just 15 to 30 minutes.” So far, it’s only for sale in New York City or at, and sells for $2.99 for a single dose, or $11.99 for a six-pack. Hmm.

The Vitamin Patch

The Daily has a story today regarding a patch that you wear on your arm — like a nicotine patch — that time releases B vitamins. “Bytox Inc., has created a hangover patch that slowly releases a complex of B vitamins over eight hours — from the hour before you start drinking to the morning after. The idea, said Dr. Leonard Grossman, is that nutrients are immediately delivered into the bloodstream and stay there instead of being depleted.”

Maybe, but that still seems like a lot of work when taking one pill before bedtime is so simple. Plus, you’d still need to keep drinking a lot of water, too. I continue to think that moderation is the best method, and when that fails, as it inevitably will on occasion, time is your only friend.