The Hangover: What You Should Know About Work and Alcohol
Booze, Hangovers, And Work: A Losing Combination
Anyone who has experimented with alcohol has probably been subject to what is called a hangover. Movies have been made, songs written about it, and party glory stories almost always include a good piece on the hangover.
Since most people do not consume alcohol at work, as those who do are fired quickly, it is usually the aftermath of heavy drinking that is seen in the workplace. This is typically seen in employees struggling to stay awake, focus, and be productive. It is this blurry stage where your body processes the alcohol from the night before, and in some cases can even be more intense than the drunkennes itself. This is the hangover phase.
Think about your own personal job. What elements or characteristics do you need to function effectively and efficiently? Do you need good motor skills? Clear and concise thinking? Or some other skills or characteristics? A hangover will effectively wipe out your ability to focus on these characteristics. Thus going to work hungover can be just as dangerous as going in drunk.
Effects of Alcohol
It is proven that alcohol can, and does have an effect on judgement, and the more you consume, the more you can be affected, until the point of drunkenness is reached. When people are drunk, their inhibitions are reduced, motor functions impaired, and the CNS, or central nervous system that controls many aspects of the body becomes impaired. Vision can blur, speech slur, and thought processes become incoherent. Some might say, "Right on, just what I was hoping for to take a load of stress off the body and mind" — a problem with drunkenness, though, is when the normalizing process, or sobering up must occur.
One of the effects of alcohol is that it thins your blood. Alcohol is a diruretic, which means that it increases the frequency of urination. If you are not replacing the water you're losing through this process, or replacing it with alcohol, dehydration is inevitable. Blood is mostly made up of water, and when you are drunk or hungover, your body is in a state of dehydration. In effect, it is the dehydration that really does the damage. Alcohol also interferes with white blood cell production, and negatively affects the body's blood clotting abilities. This puts those who consume large amounts of alcohol at a greater risk for having a stroke.
Sobering up is the process during which your body flushes the alcohol out of its system, restoring aspects that were impaired, and rebuilding the damaged cells through the rehydration process. Generally, your body can metabolize approximately one ounce of alcohol per hour, and is a process that cannot be sped up. This means that you must be aware of how much you are drinking and when if you go out drinking on a worknight. Although the process of filtering the alcohol out of the bloodstream may not be sped up, the effects of this process can be less painful with simultaneous hydration. For more on the importance of staying hydrated, check out Drink Up: How to Stay Hydrated and Prevent Dehydration.
Drinking large quantities of water can mitigate the less desirable symptoms of a hangover, such as a headache. Your first instinct to battle a hangover headache might be to grab the Tylonol bottle, but acetemenephine, the active ingrediant in many painkillers, becomes toxic to the liver when it interacts with alcohol. A common piece of advice is to sleep off the alcohol. Though, generally, this is good advice, just because you slept, does not mean that your bood alcohol level has returned to normal and that you are sober.
It is common to awake from a night of drinking still drunk, though you might just be feeling the hangover. It is important to remember that you can be charged with driving under the influence if you are pulled over the morning after drinking and you test over the legal limit.
People's reaction to alcohol amounts is known as their tolerance level. A tolerance level is the amount of alcohol one can consume before feeling the effects of alcohol. For example, some people may feel drunk after one beer, while others may need 4 or 5. Among other factors, the effects of alcohol are determined by an individual's height, weight, and gender. If drinking is chronic, the body adapts and tolerance is increased in many ways physiologically. Though the body can adapt to process alcohol faster than the average person, it is not an exact science, and the general rule of alcohol metabolism should be observed. It should also be noted that just becase a person can consume more alcohol without feeling the effects of alcohol, does not mean that it is safe, or by any means legal, to work or operate machinery under the influence of alcohol.
Working and drinking is never a good idea, especially if you are doing any sort of activity that requires good motor functions and judgement. Almost everyone is aware of how alcohol affects motor skills and brain function, though many people are unaware that working or driving with a hangover can be almost as dangerous. When you are hungover, your body cannot effectively concentrate on regular job functions, as it is attempting to repair the damage done by the alcohol the night before.
One of the biggest effects of a hangover can be drowsiness and fatigue. Since most nights of heavy drinking include staying awake into the early morning hours, it is natural to feel tired and drowsy. Add to this that your body is exerting extra energy to restore normal metabolic function, and it is clear to see that being hungover can easily lead to an unwanted accident. For more on the negative effects of worker fatigue, check out Distraction, Fatigue, and Impairment: What Any Safety Professional Can Do.
Making A Choice
The combined effects of alcohol and the aftermath of heavy drinking are likely to cause disruptive problems that can cause accidents, injuries, and poor decision making. So before you go and twist off for one beer — think ahead to tomorrow, do you have to work?
Written by Rob Chernish