ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As one of the biggest party nights of the year approaches, there will be champagne or perhaps some wine or beer or cocktails or maybe all four. In any case, it can be all too easy to overdo it.
NPR's Allison Aubrey reports there are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of a hangover.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If champagne and other sparkling wines go straight to your head, you're not alone. All those bubbles are carbon dioxide. And alcohol researcher Boris Tabakoff at the University of Colorado says in our bodies, the CO2 competes with oxygen in our bloodstream.
BORIS TABAKOFF: So some of the dizziness that you might feel after drinking champagne is due to both the brain getting a little bit less oxygen and also getting alcohol at the same time.
AUBREY: So if you want to stay steady on your feet, sip that bubbly slowly. And instead of moving from one drink to the next, alternate between one alcoholic drink and a glass of water. This is true whatever you're drinking because the water helps prevent the dehydration that accompanies a night of drinking.
TABAKOFF: What happens when you first start drinking is that a hormone that controls your water balance, called anti-diuretic hormone, is suppressed.
AUBREY: And that leaves us heading for the ladies' room or men's room and waking up with that pounding head in the morning. And Tabakoff says that's not the only reason we get a headache.
TABAKOFF: High levels of alcohol in the brain have fairly recently been found to cause neural-inflammation basically cause inflammation in the brain.
AUBREY: Which is why taking aspirin or ibuprofen can help. But alcohol isn't the only culprit in our drink glasses. Tabakoff says some wines and beers contain high levels of byproducts of fermentation, such as aldehydes.
TABAKOFF: These compounds are, in themselves, toxic compounds, and if they accumulate in the body or the brain, they can alter function in a stress-like way to lead to hangover in the end.
AUBREY: Tabakoff says distilled spirits have the least of these compounds, which is why some people say they feel fewer hangover effects if they drink vodka or gin. Now the only sure way to avoid a hangover is not to drink. But if you are going to indulge, Tabakoff says the tried-and-true advice to eat something before you drink, and while you drink, makes good sense.
TABAKOFF: Food is very good for the purpose of slowing the absorption of alcohol.
AUBREY: And his other recommendation? Pace yourself.
TABAKOFF: My trick is really moderate the rate at which I drink.
AUBREY: Most of us can metabolize about one drink per hour. Bigger people tend to be able to handle a little more.
TABAKOFF: So we can get rid of most of the alcohol that we drink if we keep our drinking down to one drink per hour so your blood alcohol levels don't start accumulating
AUBREY: And remember, he says, a drink is probably smaller than you think. It's five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or a shot of liquor. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
SIEGEL: If a certain kind of drink is part of your New Year's tradition or you must prepare a specific meal to welcome the next year, whatever it is, we'd like to know about it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the subject line, put New Year's tradition. We're already hearing from a lot of grape and black-eyed pea eaters. We look forward to hearing from you, too.