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Mealtime aspirin may boost alcohol high.

Mealtime aspirin may boost alcohol high

People who attempt to avoid hangovers by popping aspirin before drinking may be in for an unexpected side effect. New research suggests that aspirin, when taken on a full stomach, can get you drunker.

Physicians recruited five healthy men and gave them alcohol-spiked orange juice--the equivalent of 1.25 to 2 glasses of wine, depending on body weight--one hour after a full breakfast. On another morning, the men took 1 gram (two extra-strength tablets) of aspirin along with the same meal and then drank the same amount of alcohol.

The aspirin increased the men's peak blood alcohol level by an average of 34 percent compared with the peak level without aspirin, report Risto Roine, Charles S. Lieber and their colleagues at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Moreover, the researchers observed that blood alcohol levels rose more rapidly and remained elevated longer after the aspirin dose.

They note that the aspirin-boosted alcohol levels fell below U.S. legal limits for "driving while intoxicated," since the study involved relatively small alcohol doses. However, they write in the Nov. 14 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, "This increase . . . can be of clinical significance for individuals driving cars or operating other machinery that requires a high degree of mental and motor coordination."

During in vitro studies of gastric mucosa from rats and humans, the team uncovered a likely mechanism for the enhanced alcohol levels. Aspirin, they found, halved the activity of gastric alcohol dehydrogenase -- an enzyme that helps oxidize alcohol, preventing its absorption into the bloodstream. With enzyme activity subdued, more alcohol reaches the circulation, they assert.

With or without a predose of aspirin, alcohol consumed on an empty stomach also circumvents enzyme activity, passing into the bloodstream so rapidly that the enzyme hardly has a chance to blunt intoxication. Roine adds that taking aspirin after drinking probably does not increase blood alcohol levels, since the enzyme has already completed its oxidization task by that time.

Although the breakfast study focused on men, it may have particular significance for women, says Lieber. Earlier this year, the same researchers detected naturally lower activity levels of the gastric enzyme in women compared with men (SN: 1/20/90, p. 39). The team began an all-women version of its breakfast study this week and expects early results by January. "We hypothesize that when we give aspirin to women, they may have virtually no gastric [alcohol dehydrogenase] activity," Lieber says.

Roine notes that people who take aspirin with the gastric ulcer drugs cimetidine or ranitidine may face a double whammy from alcohol, since previous studies have shown that these drugs also reduce gastric alcohol dehydrogenase activity. He adds that his group plans clinical tests to verify in vitro results indicating that smaller aspirin doses, such as those prescribed to lower heart attack risk, also lower activity of the alcohol-degrading enzyme.
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Title Annotation:side effect of trying to prevent hangover with aspirin
Author:Cowen, Ron
Publication:Science News
Date:Nov 24, 1990
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