Massage and Alcohol... When Can I Drink?

Ok, so I get this question all the time. Particularly since I live on an island in the Caribbean and the first thing, as soon as you get off the plane, you see is a little stand with flavored local Cruzan rum.

Morning or night, rum is the beverage of choice here. Just ask good ol' Captain Jack.

The idyllic day dream of the Caribbean is usually relaxing by the beach to the sound of waves with a Pina Colada in hand.

So how does that work when you are on vacation and want to relax with an awesome massage BUT also want to spend some time sipping frozen drinks by the pool?

Well, first you have to know a little bit about how alcohol and massage affect the body differently.

To understand the effects of alcohol , we have to know how the body processes it. When you first start drinking a small percentage of alcohol is absorbed in your stomach before moving on to the small intestine where the rest of it is absorbed into the body and bloodstream, particularly in the muscles where there is more blood flow.

The body sees alcohol as a poison so instead of storing it, the body tries to break it down with enzymes from the liver into a toxic substance known as acetaldehyde.  This is what experts think is responsible for the hang over feeling you get the next day. The body then continues to break down the acetaldehyde into water, carbon dioxide, and fatty acids; all which the body likes and can use.

The problem starts when you consume more alcohol then your body is able to process. When that happens your blood alcohol content increases, while the liver is on overdrive trying to pump out as many enzymes as it can to process the alcohol in your bloodstream.

Then you start to get the effects of alcohol that you are familiar with. The reason this happens is because alcohol has the ability to run haywire with your neurotransmitters.  

There is a decrease in excitatory hormones like glutamate, which gives you more energy and helps with brain function. While simultaneously creating an increase of GABA (gamma-aminobutric acid) neurotransmitters, which is responsible for acting as a depressant. Its function is to slow down the processes and communications in the brain and are responsible for impaired judgment, decrease in motor skills, and increased risk taking.

Even though it seems like it gives you that extra boost of energy and confidence when you drink, in reality you are slowing down all the functions of the brain, and thus functions of the body. That's why it is important not to mix other depressants with alcohol because the effect can slow down the body's heart beat and breathing to dangerous levels.

Alcohol can be sneaky. What tricks you into thinking that you can take on the world after those first couple of drinks is because alcohol also induces high levels of dopamine ( the happy drug).  Because of the influx of dopamine, you think that you feel good, so you drink more to continue to get that release of dopamine. The only problem is that while drinking more, you're altering other chemicals in the brain that act as a depressant or sedative on the system. Over time with continued drinking the dopamine effect decreases till it's almost nonexistent, but usually by that point a dependency or addiction has developed.

Massage on the other hand has a different effect on the body.  We've discussed in other articles how massage how can calm the central nervous system and induce a parasympathetic state that allows your body to rest and heal.

Massage also has an effect on the neurotransmitters of the brain as well.  Massage reduces the amounts of stress hormone cortisol as well as other inflammatory hormones. The body also releases a slew of endorphins.

And as Elle Woods said,"Endorphins make you happy, and happy people just don't kill people." They also help to relieve pain in the body naturally without NSAIDS.

Serotonin and dopamine are released during massage aiding that relaxed and happy feeling you have afterward. Similar to that buzz you get after a few drinks, but without the less pleasant side effects.   And the best part? The effect continues to last every time you get a massage vs. the decrease with continued drinking.

Not only are your muscles being stretched and relaxed, you are increasing blood flow and nutrients to the muscles aiding in quick recovery, reserves of energy, and decreased likely hood of injury.  The problem we encounter when we mix massage and alcohol is that alcohol likes to store in the muscles and massage increases blood flow and relaxes muscles, thus making it a prime candidate to making you feel worse the next day. Remember how important massage is for the cardiovascular system!

Drinking right before a massage will ensure that those recently relaxed muscles will feel all the effects of acetaldehyde toxin the next day, especially if you get drunk.

Unfortunately, drinking alcohol has the ability to reduce the beneficial effects of massage.

So, WHEN can you drink?

Well as a massage therapist I recommend my clients not receive massage less than 12 hours (preferably 24 hours) after consumption of alcohol.

Mostly because your body is still trying to break down the acetaldehyde to less toxic substances that the body can utilize. If you get a massage all you will be doing is pushing those toxic substances around the body causing more discomfort and inflammation than relief.

The worst thing that can happen is to go in for a massage and come out feeling like you have a hangover again!

As for after your massage? Well that depends on you.

Where I live it seems drinking is part of the culture, especially since a large part of my client base is from tourism.  A client will come in for a morning massage and will be wanting to drink a cocktail with lunch.

So does that mean you can't drink the same day you get a massage? Not technically...

Keep in mind that the effects of massage can last easily from 12 to 24 hours, and drinking will decrease the efficacy of the massage. At the same time you aren't going to get drunk faster or feel better if you drink after a massage.

BUT because you are more relaxed and your muscles loose, you will be more prone to injury if you lose control of motor functions. IE, you will hurt more if you fall and bust your butt drinking after having received a massage.

As a general recommendation, if you choose to drink after you massage, do your best to stay hydrated.

My general rule of thumb is to drink a big glass of water before you begin consuming alcohol and then to try and drink a glass of water between drinks. Yes it will minimize some of the drunkenness you feel at the time, but will save you and your body lots of pain and suffering the next day!

If you need a little extra help, make sure you try our Essential Oil Hangover Shot.

Drink a little too much the night before?

Here is a great way to start helping you feel better and on the road to recovery with the use of essential oils!

3 Drops Lemon

2 Drops Grapefruit

1 Drop Peppermint

1 Drop Ginger

1 Drop Frakensense

(1 Drop Lavender if you don't have Frakensense)

Mix with a cup of cool water or juice in a glass container. Sip to help alleviate hangover symptoms.

Brandy Higginbotham
Brandy lives in St Thomas, USVI where she practices massage over looking the ocean, writes for various newsletters and blogs, and spends time with her two fur babies Max and Tica.