From downing a litre of water before bed to stocking up on carbs beforehand, I like to think I’ve tried and tested the majority of hangover prevention tips. Not mixing spirits, filtering shit vodka to make it purer and avoiding wine entirely, I’ve still spent countless mornings in my room, clutching my head and begging for forgiveness. Much like the rest of the nine million of us in the UK who drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol a week, I would pay good money to avoid a hungover Sunday.
And so surviving two years at university with what could be considered a frequent drinking habit, hearing that hangover free alcohol could soon become a thing was something I was very pleased to read. However, a deeper look on the internet reveals that although it could become a real thing eventually, the likelihood is that we’ll still have to suffer the nausea and pain the day after for a long time yet.
To put it simply, hangovers happen because alcohol is toxic and our body has to get rid of it somehow. Whether that’s through headaches (dehydration) or sickness (an irritated stomach lining), it’s obvious that drinking is not good for us. Unless you’re the type to suffer for days on end though, it’s probably not enough to stop you drinking that often.
So what’s the difference between 2016’s alcohol and the alcohol of the future? Professor David Nutt, who was sacked from his role as Government Drug Advisor in 2009 and now works as a neuropsychopharmacologist, has developed and patented around 90 alcosynth compounds. Two of these are now being widely tested and there’s hope that by 2050 (Nutt’s estimations) it could replace alcohol completely.
The main difference between alcohol and alcosynth is that alcosynth mimics the effects of alcohol without the toxic elements. The trick is to target the areas of the brain which give us the good parts of drinking (e.g. confidence and slightly blurred vision) but not the bad parts – like the following morning. Alcosynth works by avoiding the bad areas completely.
An even bigger advantage is that, due to the synthetic make up of the drink, it would be possible to take an ‘antidote’ to sober up quickly, allowing you to drive much faster than traditional alcohol. As the product isn’t yet available or entirely complete, this element is not yet guaranteed.
Nutt thinks that alcosynth – or at least the idea behind it – has been around for a long time, and told The Independent: “[The drinks industry] have been planning for this for at least 10 years. But they don’t want to rush into it, because they’re making so much money from conventional alcohol.”
It’s true that there’s a huge market for alcohol, ranging from the drinks themselves to all the hangover ‘cures’ that currently exist. Scour the internet and you can find hundreds of miracle pills and techniques to stop the aches the next day, so it’s unsurprising that the companies behind are not jumping forward with the research.
It’s worth pointing out here that Nutt was fired from his role in the government not for any heinous crime, but for claiming that, statistically, ecstasy is only as dangerous as horse riding. Suggesting that it be downgraded to a Class B drug, he was promptly fired and has since focused his research into legalisation and the drug habits of the UK.
Following this it comes as no surprise that the Government isn’t a fan of alcosynth either, with public health officials still jumping on the bandwagon of abstinence rather than reduction techniques. However, if e-cigarettes are anything to go by then we could still make progress eventually. It even follows the same thought process – if people are going to smoke, give them a healthier alternative. Surely then, if people are going to drink, give them a non toxic equivalent?
As a structure, alcosynth is similar to benzodiazepine – a compound used commonly for anxiety. Some have compared the artificial alcohol to valium, however Nutt has clarified that there are no withdrawal effects from it. Drinkers could have around four or five alcosynth glasses and the chemical would ‘max out’, so although it’s not a great alternative for getting drunk, it is an excellent way of having a few and not paying the price the next morning.
It’s confusing when we consider why healthier, synthetic alcohol hasn’t made more progress yet. According to DrinkAware, alcohol was responsible for 8,697 deaths in the UK in 2014, and is the third biggest lifestyle risk factor after smoking and obesity. With a struggling NHS and the recent decision to refuse routine surgery for people who smoke or are obese, why aren’t we doing more to prevent alcohol issues too? Logically, if people are going to drink anyway, it’s better that we push them into drinking non toxic substances instead of those that cause health problems.
A factor that could work in our favour to speed up this research, albeit controversially, is Brexit. Currently, EU regulation is one of the major components of preventing research into synthetic alcohol, so by leaving and reigning control over these laws ourselves, Britain could become one of the pioneering states for healthier alcohol equivalents.
Think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute are proof that Britain does want to campaign for positive change, and not just retain a plaster effect on things like alcohol and cigarette damage. Sam Bowman, executive director of the institute, believes that we need to push this type of innovation forward as much as possible. He told Sky News: “It’s innovation not regulation that got us e-cigarettes.”
He continued: “Other products like synthetic alcohol and reduced-risk tobacco products promise to repeat the success of e-cigs for new people, but only if we let them.”
With Google already flooded with questions like “Alcosynth availability”, “Alcosynth formula” and “Alcosynth cost” it’s obvious that Britain is ready to get rid of our hangovers once and for all, but with current regulations being as strict as they are, it’s difficult to estimate how long we’ll have to wait for a release date.