Sweating out Alcohol the Next Day
Everybody drinks. If you happen to be that one, rare person who actually doesn’t, you can skip this one. You might find the discussion amusing, but this is for everyone else. Since we all drink, we’re all looking for ways to deal with it. Sometimes, you need to sober up a little faster (especially the first time you go hard over 30, it’s rough). Other times, you’re desperate to overcome the hangover.
In both cases, we all do some weird stuff to try and get the better of drunken consequences. A lot of it doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work, and we do it anyways. Well, today we’re going to look at a specific means that people use in order to sober up and best the hangover.
Everyone has their tricks for dealing with alcohol. Some people swear that they can crap out the booze. You probably have your preferred hangover cure breakfast (or lunch if we’re being honest). The simple truth is that there’s more misinformation in the world than effective ways to deal with alcohol. So, when people suggest that working up a sweat will help you get sober faster, or cure a hangover, we have to hold the theory to some scrutiny.
The general theory we’re discussing today suggests that your sweat contains alcohol after a night of heavy drinking. So, if you sweat more, you get rid of the alcohol faster. Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a steamy shower, sit in a hot tub, or just put on an extra layer in order to get sober? That would be amazing.
Another common suggestion is that exercise will raise your metabolism, so your body will be able to simply process the liquor in a shorter span of time. It’s not as hopeful a promise as sitting under a blanket to win the war, but still, desperate times call for desperate measures. Does either component of the theory hold water? We’ll take a deep dive and get some real answers.
The Science of Sobriety
This journey starts by learning about what happens, biologically speaking, when you drink. First, alcohol goes into the stomach. There, some of it is broken down, but most of it passes along to the intestines. Generally speaking, alcohol doesn’t need to be digested. You can already absorb it into your bloodstream as is. That’s why cops test your blood alcohol content. It passes into the blood unchanged. As to why they make you do the hokey pokey before testing your blood, we’re told that’s just so they can have a little fun. Wouldn’t you mess with the drunks a little if you were in their shoes?
It’s in the large intestine where you primarily imbibe alcohol. As a side note, this is why people do rectal drinking to get drunker faster. It really does work, although it’s incredibly dangerous. So, this is not an endorsement; we’re just being honest about the science. And, in case that’s not a discouraging enough statement, you need to understand. Putting alcohol directly into the rectum will burn fiercely. It will also give you alcohol poisoning. And then you get to go to the hospital with a fiery, penetrated rectum. It’s not fun for anyone — not even the cops.
Back to the large intestine, it’s where your body primarily absorbs water, alcohol and other liquids (what are drinking that we have to include ‘other’?). Once it’s in your blood, the alcohol can perform its magic. It makes you feel light headed, gives you that fuzzy feeling and improves your dancing skills ten-fold. It even sets the room spinning when you go too hard.
In order to get you back to sober, your body has to do something with that alcohol. This is where the confusion and misinformation comes into play. The truth is that several things happen to that alcohol. Some of it is filtered through the kidneys and gets pissed out. It’s why drinking eventually makes you break the seal. Another thing that happens is your body excretes some of the alcohol as sweat. It’s why post-drinking B.O. is a special kind of nasty.
For the most part, the alcohol is processed by the liver. We all make the jokes, but most of us don’t really understand what’s happening. Up to 90 percent of all of the alcohol you drink is handled by the liver. It’s not a filtering process (which is why most of it actually isn’t in your urine). Instead, the liver chemically breaks down the alcohol into components that don’t make you drunk and your body can more readily handle. Consequently, the byproducts of broken-down alcohol are a significant source of why you feel like balls after a heavy night of drinking, but that’s getting a little too deep for this already science-heavy lesson.
Now that we have a better idea of how your body handles alcohol, we can get deeper into myth busting. Can you really sweat out enough liquor to get sober? Does exercise help deal with heavy drinking?
We already established that you do sweat out some alcohol. We also established that most of the liquor is processed in the liver. Knowing these two things, can you endure a heavy sweat and give your liver a break? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The alcohol that gets into your sweat pretty much can’t get above five percent of what you drink. The biological systems that get the alcohol into your sweat are slower and less efficient than your liver (even after years of drinking). No matter how sweaty you get, that’s not going to change.
Trying to use a sauna or workout to sweat out the booze doesn’t work. Instead of having more alcoholic sweat, you actually dilute the alcohol in your perspiration. The rate of sobering is completely unaffected. At best, you won’t stink quite as badly as without the sweat, but you’re still going to smell like the wrong side of your underwear.
But Faster Metabolism Helps, Right?
Even though you can’t sweat the booze out faster, exercise raises your metabolism. Instead of a sauna, you can just do a nice workout. You don’t care about the sweat, but getting the heart pumping makes everything work faster, so that helps you get sober sooner, right?
Sadly, the answer to this is also no. Exercise definitely speeds up a lot of processes in the body, but the chemical breakdown of alcohol isn’t dependent on how much you use your muscles. Exercise can help your body move the alcohol around faster, but it won’t accelerate how quickly your liver can synthesize the enzymes that attack the alcohol. That’s the big challenge, and the process works completely independently of your workout.
There are things that do affect liver efficiency. Mostly, they’re tied to diet. When you have excessive fat content in the liver, it inhibits the synthesis of those enzymes. So, an unhealthy diet can make your drunk spells more severe and last longer. It also makes hangovers worse. But, you can’t fix an unhealthy lifestyle with a single workout, so this plan is officially debunked.
What About Hangovers?
Sweat and exercise might not help you get sober, but that’s not the only concern when we drink. We still have to cure the hangover. That’s not about processing alcohol, so maybe one of these tricks can still help. You can still sweat out toxins, right? And, exercise will help you do that, right? In order to answer those questions, we have to look at a few things.
Back to Sweat
Let’s rip this band-aid off. An intense sweat is not a hangover cure. No matter how adamantly your bro swears by his sauna treatment, that’s not how the human body works. In fact, sweat tends to make hangovers worse. There are a lot of factors contributing to a hangover. The bulk of it is tied to those after products made by your liver. But, at least some of the misery stems from dehydration.
Even though only a little alcohol gets into your urine, it takes a lot of water to dissolve it. Alcohol is hydrophobic, so you have to spend a lot of extra water to excrete it. When you drink, your bladder is working overtime for very little gain.
More importantly, that extra lost water is enough to get you into a state of dehydration. We’re not talking about dehydration the way your dad or coach used to describe it. This is real, headache-inducing dehydration. If you’re in that state and then sweat a bunch, you’re making the problem worse. This is why everyone who tells you to drink water when you’re on a bender is right. Regardless of your hangover cure, you need water after alcohol. Always.
The Secrets of a Good Workout
Exercise is where things get more interesting. You don’t necessarily want to sweat a bunch on a hangover, but dehydration is easy to fix. As long as you can hold it down, a few glasses of water cure that part of the problem pretty easily. From there, you can afford a little sweat for the exercise.
But, how does exercise itself affect the hangover? It’s a complicated setup. Increased metabolism isn’t really going to speed up your recovery, but exercise still has some positives that can lessen the symptoms. You aren’t curing the hangover with a workout, but you really can make it better.
There are a few things at play. First, your workout is releasing endorphins. You probably know all about how exercise makes you feel good because of the chemical release. That’s just as true when you’re hungover as any other time. You’re not in better physical shape after the workout (let’s face it, it’s probably as unproductive as workouts get), but you feel better. Basically, your workout is doing the job of a natural painkiller.
The second thing at play is inflammation. Hangovers aren’t primarily a problem with inflammation (although that’s a little bit of it). Instead, your workout is helping your body process inflamed areas. If you’re an adult living a normal life, you have some inflammation somewhere. When you get a good workout, your body is able to treat the inflammation faster. The exercise might not be curing the hangover, but it’s helping you reduce problems that are stacked on top of it.
The caveat to this is that you don’t want to do anaerobic exercise. That’s known for increasing inflammation. So, any gains you get from the exercise is immediately undone by the exercise. Instead, you want to focus on cardio after your workouts. It’s the movement and heart rate that help the most.
There’s a third thing to consider. It’s an old idea — often said as a joke — but it actually holds water. If anyone has ever offered to punch you in the face to distract you from a stubbed toe, you get the idea. It doesn’t actually make your toe feel any better, but you really can be distracted from pain or discomfort. A sufficiently grueling workout can do this for your hangover. It’s hard to care about the ailments from last night when your lungs are burning.
It’s not an easy approach. You have to power through an upset stomach, lack of sleep and plenty of other symptoms. But, if you can tough it out and get some vigorous exercise (provided you drink lots of water), it’s a viable way to deal with a hangover. It might not be medically accurate to call it a cure, but if you feel better, who cares? The next time you and the boys crack open those cold ones, you need to make big plans for a workout the next morning. Everyone will see it through, right?
And Then There Are Night Sweats
If we’re going to discuss drinking and sweating, there’s a related topic that we should definitely mention: night sweats. The most important thing to understand is that night sweats are fundamentally different from everything we’ve discussed up to this point. They can contain alcohol, but they’re on a trigger that is a whole different story.
By and large, night sweats are induced by alcohol withdrawal. More accurately, it’s like a precursor to withdrawal. Keep in mind, we’re not discussing sweats from a bad dream or being hot. If you are prone to intense sweating on nights that you drink, it’s most likely a withdrawal symptom.
Now, this doesn’t mean you’re a raging alcoholic. There are plenty of people who get night sweats and don’t have issues with moderation. Instead, the sweats are indicating that your body processes alcohol a little differently from the general population (although millions of people fit this category). Basically, people who get night sweats break down more alcohol in their stomachs than normal. The byproducts tend to trigger the excessive sweat.
If you’re someone who has this issue, it’s worth rethinking how you drink. Again, you don’t necessarily have a drinking problem, but night sweats can be an indicator that you’re at much higher risk for alcohol-related diseases (including liver disease).
The last issue to talk about is delirium tremens. This only happens when your body builds up a physical dependence on alcohol, and it depends a lot on your physiology. There ar a lot of people in the world who can drink obscene amounts, every day, and never get real alcohol withdrawal. But, when it does happen, it’s incredibly dangerous. Instead of just night sweats, you might also suffer from shakes, hallucinations and other known withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you know experiences this, it’s time to go to the hospital.
That got a little serious at the end, but sometimes, drinking is serious business. Mostly, we got to have a little fun thinking about drinking and hangover cures. Hopefully, you learned something valuable. Mostly, you probably saw that hangover cures are largely B.S. Alcohol is a pain because there are no shortcuts. It’s a lot of fun, followed by an inescapable price.
Feel free to drink. Just know that when you do, your body has to go through the process. You can’t speed it up. You can’t cheat it. All you can do is find ways to make it less miserable, and if you’re crazy enough, you can distract yourself with a particularly terrible workout. Until next time, have fun, drink responsibly and stay fresh out there.