The best booze news of the holiday season is something that I've known for years. But now that it's been proven in a double-blind crossover study, I can offer it with some little authority:
You can get high without drinking alcohol.
Now I'm not talking about joggers' high or any of those other things that set your endorphins popping. Those are things, after all, that are not best done in black-tie or high heels.
I'm talking about seasonal partying. I'm talking about getting high on orange juice, even on ginger ale or club soda . . .
Of course, in the studies reported in the December Psychology Today, the people who became intoxicated without alcohol did actually think they were drinking alcohol. They expected to get high, to become more aggressive and to demonstrate other characteristics of the party drunk, so they did.
The point is, if everybody else is high as a kite, making seasonal idiots of themselves, putting the seasonal make on somebody else -- you know -- who's going to notice that you're drinking tonic? So long as you're not behaving as though you're drinking only tonic. Two things could happen:
You'll either get into the swing, sans alcohol, or you'll be so turned off by all those drunks you'll just go home. Either way, you're ahead.
Other recent reports on alcohol indicate that:
A minimal amount of alcohol -- no more than a few drinks a week -- may be beneficial in terms of preventing stress-related cardiovascular and other ills. A new study has shown, however, that spasmodically drinking more than usual -- during a holiday season, for example -- can eliminate the protection that seems to come with moderate regular drinking. Heavy "binge" drinkers may be courting cardiovascular disaster.
Women simply cannot drink as much, or more than men, no matter what impression Karen Allen gives in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." A British study suggests, in fact, that a woman should drink only one drink for every two downed by her male companions because of an increased risk of liver disease and damage to immune systems. Researchers speculate it is because a greater percentage of the female body is fat, and fat absorbs alcohol very slowly.
Despite conventional wisdom, alcohol won't warm you up on a cold day. Oh sure, you may feel warm for a while, but in fact, your body will be throwing off heat, making you more vulnerable to the cold. You can be frostbitten without even noticing. Or worse, cold air can be whisked to your heart through dilated blood cells delivering a potentially catastrophic shock . . .
Exercising in the cold (as in jogging or shoveling snow) after drinking alcohol has even greater potential risks.
Sex. Lots of controversy here, but from Shakespeare on down, the consensus seems to be that, as the bard said in Macbeth, drinking "provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance."
Then there are hangovers.
People can metabolize something like an ounce of 80-proof an hour. More than that and the machinery jams. You get drunk. Alcohol is an anesthetic and a central nervous system depressant. Its toxins, which will overflow into your system when the machinery jams, are going to give you some headache tomorrow morning . . .
Of course, for every hangover, there is a purported cure. From a number of sources, including a new collection called The Hangover Handbook by David E. Outerbridge ($3.95, Harmony Books) come these:
* Hair of the dog. Well, yes, maybe a tablespoon -- no more -- will help calm that burning gastrointestinal tract.
* Roll naked in the snow. It does get the metabolism going. Considered a bit radical and may tend to attract the undesirable interest of law enforcement authority. But vigorous exercise does help.
* Middle Ages (from the handbook): Slice up one eel and sprinkle with 2 oz. chopped bitter almonds. Eat it.
* Drink a lot of water. This is just good sense.
* Oxygen, if you have some available, won't hurt.
* But basically, this is it: Stay in bed. You're sick. You're really, physiologically sick. Don't let the sun shine in. Don't try to do anything. Nobody wants you around in that condition anyway. This too will pass. Honest.
Alcohol interacts with some other things synergistically -- when 2 plus 2 equals 7, or, in the case of alcohol and some other things, death. Such recipes include alcohol and:
Other central nervous system depressants like sleeping pills, barbiturates, sedatives, "downers," narcotic pain killers. Everything killers.
Antihistamines as found in cold medicines. Literally, a knock-out.
Aspirin. Alcohol makes the stomach more easily irritated. Aspirin irritates the stomach.
Anti-depressant drugs. They make you drunker and sicker faster when alcohol is consumed on top. Can be killers.
Any drug. You never can tell.
And especially, driving . . .
Now what do you do when you've gone and had too much to drink and it's time to go home?
Coffee? Forget it. It won't make you sober. You'll just be a wide-awake drunk.
Sleep over? Sure, if it's convenient.
Well, this year there's a possible answer -- at least for residents of D.C. and Montgomery and Prince George's counties inside the Beltway.
Comprehensive Care Corp., a national chain of private treatment centers for alcoholism, has instituted the Holiday CareCab.
Between Dec. 21 and Jan. 2, volunteers, soberer than the proverbial judge, will ferry potential drunk drivers from any public place to home between the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m.
CompCare, which has a unit on the Providence Hospital grounds, notes that last December there were 2,000 drinking and driving deaths in the U.S.
The Carecab was begun last year in Los Angeles County. This year it will expand to Orange County, Calif., Memphis, Tenn., Miami, Fla., in addition to the D.C. area.
For CareCab, phone: 269-7777.
And have a happy . . .