How to have a better time with alcohol

I've always had the unfortunate condition of turning really red whenever I consumed alcohol. My face, my chest, and even my legs would eventually turn red if I kept drinking. I would get a giant headache, become really tired, and be a giant buzz-kill. While it's good to consume less alcohol, unless you want to ignore social dynamics altogether, sometimes it's just a required part of life and doing business (in certain countries). 

I'm going to share my hacks with you, and inform you how to (in theory):

  • Get drunk slower
  • Get drunk faster
  • Get drunk like a normal person if you do flush

Before I start, let me declare an explicit disclaimer: these are my opinions only. I am not a doctor or a chemist, and you assume all risk for anything you try at home. In fact, let me just say you shouldn't even try any of these tactics; I do not condone it. This is for informational purposes only, and regardless of what is taken with alcohol, you should never drink and drive.

I'm going to explain the pathways first, but you can move onto the Summary section if you don't care why it works, and just want to know how they're applicable.

Alcohol breakdown in the body

There are three relevant stages that alcohol (ethanol) goes through in the human body. To my understanding, it looks something like this:

Ethanol  --[ADH]-->  Acetaldehyde --[ALDH]--> Acetic Acid

The ethanol is what affects your Blood Alcohol Concentration and causes you to become drunk in the classic sense. The liver then turns ethanol into acetaldehyde through an enzyme called ADH. Acetaldehyde is still toxic, but has different properties than ethanol. It causes your blood vessels to expand, gives you a headache, and worsens hangovers. Worst of all, it seems acetaldehyde also works to increase the risk of certain cancers. In the last step, the enzyme ALDH breaks down acetaldehyde into acetic acid, which is basically just vinegar. While acetic acid is pretty harmless in this context, the rate of breakdown can severely affect alcohol tolerance. 

Asian flush

Asians who flush are (typically) not allergic to alcohol. Rather, the effect is two-part genetic. 

First, almost all Asians have a variant of the gene that codes for the enzyme ADH (ethanol -> acetaldehyde). These variants create an enzyme that process alcohol up to 40x faster than non-asians. That's right - it can be up to 40x harder for you to get drunk. Ever wonder why, regardless of how much you seem to drink, you can't sympathize with your friends who black-out and forget the night? It's not because you're a wuss (or responsible drinker). Your genetics just make it virtually impossible.

Second, to exacerbate the condition, about half of all Asians have a variant of the gene that codes for ALDH (acetaldehyde -> acetic acid). This variant causes the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde to be much less efficient, resulting in a buildup of acetaldehyde. 

So, what do we have? Well, about 50% of Asians convert alcohol into acetaldehyde really quickly, and at the same time, process the acetaldehyde really slowly. This results in a massive buildup of acetaldehyde, which causes redness, and can make the drinking process altogether rather disappointing. 

Treating the flush

The obvious answer to not flushing is not to drink - but that's sort of like preaching abstinence as a vaccine for pregnancy. In order to lessen the effects of flushing (and all the associated side-effects), we have to fix one of the two steps in the chain--we either need to decrease the rate at which alcohol is processed into acetaldehyde, or increase the rate at which acetaldehyde is processed into acetic acid. It turns out affecting the first step is much easier, and also makes for a more normal drinking experience. We can do this with one of the following:

  • Famotidine / Pepcid 
  • Ranitidine / Zantac

From the "research" of myself and others, Ranitidine (300mg) seems to work better than Famotidine (20mg). You can get both over-the-counter, and by prescription (if you want your insurance to cover it - plus OTC is generally 75mg). I typically go from maxing out at about 2-drinks/3-hour period to about 11-drinks/3-hour period on Ranitidine (taken 1 hour or so before - though it lasts for quite a few hours). The exact effect though, will obviously depend on your body and situation.

It seems that these drugs will slow the rate at which you actually process alcohol -> acetaldehyde, giving you more of the alcohol experience, and less of a hangover experience. Though I may be drawing a ill-informed conclusion, it logically sounds to me like those who flush may find it beneficial to take such medication before drinking, as it lowers the amount of acetaldehyde in the body. Note that preventing alcohol flush is not the intended use of these drugs, and that you should always check with a doctor before using them. Actually, just don't use them with alcohol at all.

More drunk, less hangover

Regardless of whether you flush, it seems you can use the aforementioned drugs to stay drunk for longer, and (possibly) get less of a hangover. That is, even if you process acetaldehyde -> acetic acid at an appropriate rate, slowing down the ethanol -> acetaldehyde step means you can drunk for cheaper, and give your body more time to deal with the acetaldehyde buildup. The internet reports that Ranitidine can cause a 38% increase in blood alcohol levels. Once again, adhere to the drug warnings, and do not take these with alcohol.

Less drunk, more hangover?

The internet reports, though there is some backing evidence, that the consumption of Active Yeast right before drinking can cause you not to get drunk, at a ratio of about 1 teaspoon / drink. However, ADH doesn't function at low pH, which makes it questionable as to whether this method works. Acetaldehyde is also pretty toxic, and I'm not sure a buildup is something you'd want in your stomach, even if this somehow works. 

Assuming the article is correct, they suggest ingesting yeast before drinking. If you don't flush, then the acetaldehyde gets broken down into acetic acid normally. I'm guessing the buildup isn't going to be enough (nothing like 10x-40x) to cause a flush in people who don't normally flush, but I could be mistaken. In any case, the guy claims 6 teaspoons of Yeast and 6 beers later, he only felt a little buzzed. This is entirely anecdotal, and there are quite a few scientific inconsistencies involved. Needless to say, you should not do this in any circumstance if you already flush. You really shouldn't try this at all.


Theoretically Get Drunk Normally (if you flush): Take 300mg Ranitidine or 20mg Famotidine about 1 hour before starting to drink. Though, you should not take these medications with alcohol unless told to by a doctor.

Theoretically Get Drunk Faster (If you don't flush): Take 300mg Ranitidine or 20mg Famotidine about 1 hour before starting to drink. Though, you should not take these medications with alcohol unless told to by a doctor.

Theoretically Get Drunk Slower (if you don't flush): Eat 1 teaspoon of active yeast for every drink you plan on having, right before you start. Though, you should not do this unless cleared to by a doctor.

Medication should not be used with alcohol. The information presented here is for information and discussion only. 

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