If you're set on doing some heavy pouring to ring in the new year, you've probably already resigned yourself to a recovery hangover tomorrow. But binge drinking—defined by the CDC as having five or more drinks in two hours if you're a guy, four or more if you're a woman—can also "significantly disrupt" the immune system, CBS Philadelphia reports. In a small study published in the journal Alcohol, researchers gave either four or five 1.5-ounce vodka shots (depending on the subject's weight) to eight women and seven men with a median age of 27. At 20 minutes after "peak intoxication," immune system activity ramped up, but that effect was temporary. At the two-hour and five-hour marks, the immune system slowed, with blood samples showing a reduction in two types of white blood cells key to immunity; there was also an increase in proteins that tell the immune system to cool it.
Choosing two hours and five hours after peak intoxication wasn't a haphazard decision: Those are the typical times when patients arrive in the ER or other trauma centers for alcohol-related injuries, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the University of Maryland. The research is a new clue into the effects of binge drinking, which is already known to keep wounds from healing as quickly, increase blood loss, and up the risk of contracting an illness or an infection from catheters. The Loyola University researcher leading the team next wants to examine burn-unit patients with alcohol in their blood to check their immune systems and see if they're more at risk for lung injury, organ failure, or even dying compared with their teetotaling counterparts. (Heavy drinking may not always mean alcoholism.)