Having a few drinks with work colleagues can be a perfect way to unwind after a long day. But for Sharon Lee (not her real name), there’s one particularly embarrassing night she would rather forget.
The 38-year-old business manager was hanging out with her boss and a few friends at work. It had been all well and good – until she ordered a gin and tonic.
“I’m not much of a drinker and didn’t have much to eat, but I took a sip from my friend. I thought it was tasty and refreshing, so I ordered one for myself. The drinks were one-for-one so I thought I’d have the other one, too,” she said.
It went downhill from there. “I got dizzy and excused myself to go to the bathroom, where I threw up. I thought I was better but the minute I walked out, I felt another pukefest coming on!”
Thankfully, her colleagues were polite about it and helped her out. Nonetheless, it was all rather embarrassing. “My boss and the people I work with every day were all there!” she moaned.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE INTOXICATED?
Getting drunk is never a good thing, especially in social situations. The last thing you’d want to do is make a fool of yourself in front of your date or officemates.
But what if you’re the type who can’t really handle your drink – or just don’t realise you’ve had enough?
Lee’s Merlion moment is just one example of what happens when you’re not prepared for that drink. As head bartender of whisky and cocktail bar Flagship, Jerrold Khoo has seen it all – whether it’s someone who starts breakdancing in the middle of the room, quiet types who suddenly become super talkative or those that simply knock out.
And then there are the not-so-amusing types. “Some customers do get verbally and physically abusive. Some male customers may start getting touchy with ladies,” said the 28-year-old Diageo World Class Singapore Bartender of the Year for 2018.
Given a recent, rather sobering, study on the effects of alcohol, what you do when intoxicated is probably be the least of your worries. But seeing that you’ll probably be thrust into situations where a bit of social drinking might be involved, it’s best to be aware of certain things.
ARE YOU PRONE TO GETTING DRUNK EASILY?
There are those who think, rather smugly, that these incidents won’t happen to them. But actually, who you are can literally influence your tolerance for alcohol.
According Dr Lui Hock Foong, a gastroenterologist at Gleneagles Hospital, some people are more susceptible to getting drunk than others – if you’re plump, short and happen to be of the fairer sex, approach that drink with caution.
“A person with more body fat compared to a lean person of the same weight, or those of a female gender – because the female body carries more body fat – are less tolerant to alcohol,” he said.
Why? Alcohol enters and dissolves faster through water-rich tissues, like muscle, instead of fat. If you’ve got more of the latter, the tendency is to have a higher concentration of alcohol in your body.
And then, there are also genetic considerations. According to Dr Lui, some people just have more enzymes that process that tequila shot better than others.
WHAT SHOULD I ORDER IF I CAN’T HOLD MY DRINK?
So if you’re unfortunately the type who gets drunk easily, how do you avoid a potentially viral video post of you doing the cha-cha in front of your bewildered boss at a company night out?
A lot of it is common sense, starting with what you eat.
While being on the heavy side does make the alcohol work faster, eating fatty foods before drinking actually helps.
It’s the same logic – that butter-rich dish slows down the stomach’s process of emptying itself and holds the alcohol in there longer, before being released into the small intestines, where most of the absorption takes place, said Dr Lui.
As for what drink to order, don’t feel pressured into ordering one just because everyone else is doing so, said Khoo. (After all, you’re no longer a teenager are you?)
If you really think having a Coke Zero sounds lame when everyone else is going for their proseccos and G&Ts, he suggests sticking to tea and coffee. Most bars would have a range of teas and a Nespresso machine, while proper cocktail bars would have a range of mocktails or can make one upon request.
WHAT TYPE OF ALCOHOLIC DRINK SHOULD I GET?
If you want something alcoholic, go for options with a low ABV or Alcohol-By-Volume, which signifies the percentage of ethanol (alcohol) is in a given volume of drink.
On one end of the spectrum are the beers while on the other end are your spirits and hard liquor. According to William Kerr, a scientist at the Alcohol Research Group of the Public Health Institute, the average ABV for beer is 4.5 per cent (keep an eye out for craft beers that can sometimes go above 10 per cent). For wine, it’s 11.6 per cent while for liquor, it’s 37 per cent.
ARE SOME COCKTAILS STRONGER THAN OTHERS?
When it comes to cocktails, Khoo said certain ones are definitely stronger than others, such as those that are stirred not shaken, and are “spirit forward”, which are made with strong spirits softened by liqueurs, bitters, vermouth or fortified wine.
He added: “Drinks without juices, like Manhattan, Dry Martini, Vieux Carre and Red Hook are all slightly stronger drinks than Whiskey Sour, Margarita – the addition of juices and shaken drinks also dilute the ABV further.”
Khoo’s go-to drinks are either an Aperol and soda or a Campari and freshly squeezed orange juice. You might also want to consider cocktails such as the Pompier (cassis, dry vermouth and soda) and Americano (sweet vermouth, campari and soda).
Incidentally, he’s off in October to represent Singapore in the Diageo World Class competitions, where he’ll be presenting a low ABV mixed drink called The Conscious Mule, which is made of vodka, ginger, carrot, apple, lime and honey.
“It looks into replenishing and stimulating the body with vitamins and nutrients,” he explained.
WHAT’S THE LOWDOWN ON BUBBLY, DARK BEERS AND MIXING DRINKS?
If you’re considering champagne, pay heed to those bubbles, said Dr Lui.
“Consuming sparkling alcohol – where the bubbles expose more alcohol to the stomach and intestinal linings – would lead to more rapid absorption, which results in a higher concentration of blood-alcohol, which in turn causes intoxication more easily.”
As for whether darker drinks are stronger, that’s not the case. “Dark beers, ale and stout are often low in alcohol content than lager,” he explained.
When it comes to spirits, the risk is actually in terms of hangovers and not getting drunk per se. “Darker spirits such as rum and whisky may contain impurities which are more likely to cause hangovers than vodka or gin,” he said.
What about mixing drinks and the order you drink these? Do sayings like “beer before wine you’ll feel fine” actually hold any, erm, water? Not really.
“Generally intoxication is related to the amount and rate of alcohol entering the bloodstream. Therefore mixing drinks just leads to consuming more alcohol but is no different from taking the large amounts of the same type of alcohol. The intoxication risk is the same.”
Which means, knowing your ABVs is great but don’t forget your maths – everything does add up.
HOW LONG SHOULD I NURSE MY DRINK AND PACE MYSELF?
Being aware of what you’re drinking is important, but at the end of the day, it’s really about pacing one’s self, said Khoo.
A shot of absinthe? Sure. Five straight ones? Not a pretty sight. “I get many customers who frown upon hearing ‘tequila’ but it’s all due to bad experiences doing tequila shots – it’s actually a lovely spirit. The general rule of thumb is one drink every 45 minutes and I find three drinks to be the safe amount,” he said.
Nursing one’s drink is the trick to not getting intoxicated, added Dr. Lui.
He pointed out that sensible drinking means limiting your consumption to no more than 14 standard drinks in a week. A standard drink equals either a small glass of wine, a shot of spirits or half a pint of beer.
There are other tricks to fend off drunkenness other than pacing yourself. One of which includes, well, actual pacing.
“I realised the alcohol wears off faster when I’m busy behind the bar as compared to if I’m not moving around,” said Khoo.
Other tips? Nibbling on some snacks and drinking lots of water. “There was also one time when I was given a 151 shot (which is equal to 75 per cent ABV) and immediately felt the buzz,” he recalled. “I drank a gallon of water to sober myself up – and it worked!”
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN THE BUZZ HITS ME?
Of course, there might be an instance when, despite all your efforts, the inevitable happens and you feel “tipsy”.
This, said Dr Lui, is already a red flag. “Being just tipsy is not fine; this is already the second stage of alcohol intoxication, which is that of excitement causing poor coordination and slight drowsiness,” he said.
Would coffee help? While it might stimulate the body and perk you up, it doesn’t hasten the sobering process – drinking water is still the best option.
And when you eventually either do a Merlion or pass out, there are more immediate things to be worried about other than disapproving looks from your boss and colleagues the next day.
“Vomiting when one is semi-conscious has the risk of causing one to inhale the vomit into the lungs and this is potentially life-threatening,” said Dr Lui, whose advice is for your now-suffering friends to keep you in a seated position or lying sideways on the left shoulder.
Hopefully, when all this is over, your friends will still be talking to you and you still have a job.