“There’s always been a quest for a hangover-free Mecca,” says Michael Suchocki.
“I try to stay healthy, but I do like to drink,” the 47-year-old from Northern California continues. He began paying attention to the negative health effects of alcohol in his late 30s, he says, when he saw a story in a local city blog about Drinkwel, a dietary supplement “for healthy people who drink, by healthy people who drink.”
“It’s an organic, vegan remedy,” Suchocki explains, “that helps you retain hydration and protect your liver and kidneys while they’re under attack from alcohol.”
Suchocki began taking Drinkwel on weekend benders 10 years ago and was pleasantly surprised when he opened his eyes after a long night. “Mornings ranged from feeling totally fine to feeling a little groggy — but never with the intense headache or turning stomach. If I really did some damage, I’d take another three-pack of Drinkwel to get me back underway again.”
There is such a thing as a healthy drinker, Suchocki contends: One who hydrates, leads a healthy lifestyle outside of the bar and gives his body a fighting chance of overcoming the negative effects of alcohol by supporting it with targeted nutrients.
Mostly, though, it was the Drinkwel story that spoke to Suchocki. “They would party in Vegas and take a bunch of vitamins to stay healthy. That made sense to me.”
“They” are Drinkwel cofounders Mike McAdams and Greg Huang, who first met as work-hard/play-hard fraternity brothers at the University of California at Berkeley. “I was notorious for pouring vitamins down the throats of drunk people who were passing out,” McAdams remembers. In particular, he brought the vitamins on a trip to Vegas with Huang and their friends and gave everyone a handful before they went out and another before they went to bed.
No one could believe how good they felt the next day.
“Greg wanted to know what kind of miracle I’d fed him,” McAdams says. “I explained that some of it replenishes vitamins you lose by drinking alcohol, some of it detoxes the liver and some of it just helps you feel better the next day. ‘Why don’t they make one pill that does all that stuff?’ he asked me. And Drinkwel was born.”
Right around that time (circa 2010), McAdam explains, a study came out listing the benefits of drinking alcohol. “It said that people who drink are actually a little healthier than people who completely abstain. The thinking is that people look for adventure after drinking — whether it’s hiking, running or going to a festival. People who consume alcohol want to be more active. Drinkwel allows them to be.”
“The idea that drinking is linked to adventure-seeking makes zero sense,” says David Wiss with Nutrition in Recovery in Santa Monica. Yes, there’s some scientific support to suggest that alcohol depletes our B vitamins, which can contribute to hangovers, Wiss explains. And he has worked with clients who claim that taking a high-dose multivitamin before drinking has been helpful. But he remains skeptical about Drinkwel.
“As someone who’s studied public health and addiction, one trend I’ve noticed is that if you want to make a lot of money, find a product that has addictive potential and then convince the world that it’s good for them — artificial sweeteners, vaporizers, suboxone, wine, coffee — all of which are addictive but have been given a health halo. You can probably add Drinkwel to that list. The word ‘healthy’ is used twice in the tagline! Yet they’re talking about something that’s very unhealthy for a lot of people and giving it an undeserved health halo to appeal to people who aren’t ready to give up their vice.”
Indeed, scroll through the Drinkwel blog and you’ll find post after post heralding the healthiness of booze.
- “Top 3 Health Benefits of Drinking Alcohol”: “Drinking alcohol may reduce the risk of heart disease in men by up to 51%, can lessen the risk of gallstones, continuing drinking can better help you to avoid a second heart attack.”
- “Fact or Fiction: Alcohol Kills Brain Cells”: “For the record: Alcohol does not kill brain cells. It can jack them up pretty hard, but it doesn’t kill them.”
- “5 Healthy-ish Cocktails Commonly Available”: “Fix up your White Russian with at least 3 ounces of real cream and you’ll be hooked up with 25% of your daily allowance of Vitamin A.”
- “The Health Benefits of Bitters”: “Bitters contains many herbs and roots that are believed to ease stomach pain.”
- “Useful Vitamins for Alcoholics”: “Of course, if you really feel you’re in trouble, after you smash that 4 a.m. burrito you may also want to augment your Vitamin B intake with some additional help.”
“Drinkwel seems to be attempting to cash in on the whole harm-reduction movement,” Wiss says. “The message: You’re not gonna stop drinking, so you might as well do what you can to mitigate the damage. It appeals to the consumer who knows that they have a drinking problem but aren’t willing to stop drinking. It’s perfect for a binge eater or chronic cleanser looking for quick fixes to solve a problem that probably requires a more serious, long-term solution. There’s also likely a strong placebo effect at play here.”
Perhaps, Suchocki says. “Drinkwell isn’t a cure-all. But I definitely feel that I’m guarded from Hell the next morning. And I don’t want to be in bed until noon nursing a hangover. Adults need to be constructive on Saturdays.”
No matter the criticisms, however, McAdams remains bullish that his concoction is a ticket to that hangover-free Mecca that seems as magical as the Fountain of Youth. “There are indigestion pills that allow you to be a glutton rather than eating healthier. There are nicotine patches that allow you to get your fix in a healthier way. And there are ways to be a healthy drinker. Embrace the oxymoron.”