What if you could drink a lot without having to worry about a hangover? Well, you can, if you stick to drinking water or milk or even coffee or basically anything non-alcoholic—heck, even if you drink windshield cleaning fluid you probably won’t have a hangover, although you’re also unlikely to still be around the next day to report on the effects. The thirty-eight months of 2020 have also left all of us pretty hung over even before we could start the New Year’s celebrations. I’ve also heard it said that a twenty dollar bottle of vodka and an eighty dollar bottle of vodka will taste the same; the difference is how you feel the next morning. One way or another you’re gonna pay for it. Anyway a British scientist has been working on a synthetic alternative to alcohol that not only promises no hangover but also that you can’t get drunk—it promises a relaxing effect, making people more sociable and chatty but it’s designed so the effect is supposed to be limited: drinking more isn’t going to make you any more intoxicated.
It sounds like science fiction, maybe because it has been: on Star Trek synthehol was—or is, I guess, since technically it happens in the future—supposed to be an alternative to real alcohol that provides a warm buzz without excessive drunkenness or hangovers and less time required to sober up. And it’s supposed to be so much like the real thing only certain very discerning starship engineers, who also happen to be Scottish, can tell the difference. Still I think there’s another question that’s not being answered: what about other species? That’s a question not even Star Trek bothers with but is one answered in Larry Niven’s Tales of The Draco Tavern, a collection of stories set in a fictional spaceport bar in Siberia, and it’s hard to imagine a place that needs a bar more than a spaceport. A hangover is nothing compared to the jet lag of a few trillion miles. Niven uses the casual encounters between aliens and humans as a way to delve into pithy philosophical issues but what I find intellectually intoxicating is the detail that various species from around the galaxy all have their own ways of getting hammered. Humans have alcohol, some aliens get a buzz from beef consommé, some imbibe radioactive rocks, however that works, and some enjoy a low voltage electrical charge. That last one, actually, doesn’t sound that unusual. There was a kid in one of my high school shop classes who got a charge out of hooking up with a small generator, and I guess that’s one way to keep the spark in your relationship.
To get back to the original subject, though, I’m not sure an alternative to alcohol is such a good idea. For one thing no matter how harmless it seems there’s someone out there who’ll find a way to abuse it—probably that kid from my high school shop class. And I’ve found that it’s possible to have a drink without the hangover. It’s called moderation. Yes, I’ve also said that everything taken to excess is bad for you, including moderation, but if you have a hangover that’s your body’s way of telling you not to have so much next time. And it’s a good reminder that excess should be reserved for special occasions. For instance one late December morning several years ago I was in a liquor store picking up something to ring out the old year and see in the new one with a hangover when I heard a young man ask, “Do you have any Moet & Chandon?” I was feeling pretty sociable and chatty because I’d had a few more cups of coffee than usual and I couldn’t resist blurting out, “Yes! She keeps it in a little pretty cabinet. Let them eat cake she says, just like Marie Antoinette.”
Everybody in the place looked at me like I’d been drinking windshield cleaning fluid. And since it was a special occasion I invited them to come to my house so I could yell at them to get off my lawn.
Whatever you’ve been drinking, Chris, I’d like to have some of that.