Avoiding the pitfalls on New Year’s Eve

They say hindsight is 20/20, meaning that when one has the benefit of knowing how something turns out, the reason for that result seems clear. Psychologists call it “hindsight bias,” in which people actually believe that given a different set of circumstances they would make the changes necessary to facilitate a different set of results the next time.

Every year on New Year’s Eve thousands of people make the same mistakes over and over again, but expect different results. Some have to do with alcohol consumption, some with behavior.

•Drinking sparkling wine: Carbon dioxide speeds up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, giving the body less time to process the toxins. Plus, many sparkling wines include a “dosage,” a small amount of distilled spirit or sugar water (or both) to stop fermentation, which helps intensify the alcoholic effect. Studies show a higher percentage of alcohol and sugar are dehydrating.

•Drinking brown liquor: Distilled alcohol contains congeners, a by-product of alcoholic fermentation, and some studies suggest the congeners are the cause of hangovers. Different types of alcohol have different levels of congeners. Caramel-colored liquors have the highest concentration whereas clear liquors have fewer. That means that bourbon, Scotch and anejo tequila are more likely to cause more severe hangovers than gin or vodka. The British Medical Journal determined some years ago that the hard liquor with the most congeners is bourbon whiskey (eight times more than gin), followed by aged brandy (six times more) and then Scotch (four times more). Also consider that gin contains almost three times more congeners than vodka.

•Drinking gin: Sometimes people refer to gin as juniper-flavored vodka, which is sort of true. Both are neutral grain spirits, and gin does need to contain juniper in order to legally qualify. But the similarities end there. Vodka comes in two “proofs,” 80 and 100. Rarely do you see the 100 proof versions unless you look in brown paper bags beneath various freeway overpasses. What most of us see in bars is the 80 proof. Regular Smirnoff, Ketel One, Hangar One are all 80 proof, because they have to be, it’s the law. Typically proof is arrived at by doubling the figures for alcohol percentage — 80 proof equals 40 percent alcohol, 100 proof equals 50 percent and so on. However most name-brand gins weigh in at 90 proof or above. Ten proof equals 5 percent more alcohol, and when you consider that the purer the alcohol is, the faster it is absorbed into the blood tream, the doubling of proof can feel like quadrupling the effect. Not really a good thing at night — or the morning after.

•Not making reservations: Do people really think that uttering, “You must have lost my reservation” on New Year’s Eve is really going to work? On big nights many fine dining restaurants actually call to confirm reservations. In this day of Open Table and other reservation systems, the likelihood that a reservation will be lost is infinitesimally small. So save the histrionics.

•Calling a taxicab at the last minute: Even on the busiest night of the year there are only so many cabs available. You’d be surprised how many people wait until the bar or restaurant closes before calling for one. If you do, expect to wait an hour or more.

• Not bothering with a cab: Possibly the stupidest thing you will ever do. Drinking and driving is always a bad idea, but it is exponentially stupid on New Year’s Eve.

Perhaps some of this will help you partygoers now, before New Year’s Eve. Because afterward it will all seem so obvious.

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