You wake up after a night of heavy drinking and feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Your sleep was restless, you feel warm and feverish, and of course, your head is aching, feeling as though it's full of cotton balls.

All of this happens for a good reason, too. The effects of binge-drinking can be harmful to your body and brain. But some scientists believe that certain medication might be able to counter that. A new drug developed by Professor Mike Page and Dr. Karl Hemming of the University of Huddersfield in the UK could be used to reduce side effects of binge-drinking, especially among teenagers, according to their new study. The drug, known as ethane-beta-sultam, is a taurine “pro-drug,” meaning it easily enters the bloodstream before the body processes it into its active form. 

The researchers at University of Huddersfield teamed up with other scientists in Belgium and Italy for the study. They found that ethane-beta-sultan was effective in overcoming the “blood-brain barrier,” or the body’s defense mechanism that protects the brain. The blood-brain barrier typically makes it difficult for scientists to develop effective medicines to reach the brain and treat neurological illnesses. The researchers gave the drug to rats on a binge-drinking regimen, finding that it decreased brain cell loss and inflammation, as well as prevented lost memory — things that normally happen after a night of ridiculous drinking. It’s these harmful side effects that can have a lasting impact on binge-drinkers, particularly in teenagers, whose brains are still developing.

“One of the things that alcohol does is to destroy some of the brain cells which are important for navigation and orientation,” Page said in a press release. “But a combination of alcohol and our compound could overcome this damage.”

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge-drinking as consuming alcohol to the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of at least 0.08 percent within two hours. Just 30 minutes of binge-drinking can cause endotoxin levels to increase in your body. Endotoxins are toxins that are released into the bloodstream when gut cells deteriorate, impairing your immune system and causing your body to retrieve nutrients from muscles, which can lead to muscle aches and a feeling of soreness during your hangover. Chronic binge-drinking can cause a build-up of endotoxins that can ultimately damage the liver.

Page explains that the brain uses glial cells as a form of protection, which are increased when they’re exposed to alcohol in a binge-drinking scenario. “But a combination of our ethane-beta-sultan given at the same time as the alcohol decreased these levels of glial cells,” he said.

If such a drug is developed and approved by the FDA, it’s possible that it might become a “mask” of sorts that could lessen the effects of heavy drinking and thus make it more acceptable and easier to appear "healthy." The drug might become a band-aid of sorts on the problem, rather than treating the core issue of alcohol abuse. But Page believes that regardless, a drug might be practical in helping alcoholics or binge-drinkers decrease the damage as they attempt to quit. “[I]f you accept that alcohol abuse is going to continue, then it might be sensible for society to try and treat it in some way,” Page said. 

Source: Stefanini C, Colivicchi MA, Della Corte L, Ward RJ, De Witte P, Lallemand F. Ethane-β-Sultam Modifies the Activation of the Innate Immune System Induced by Intermittent Ethanol Administration in Female Adolescent Rats. Journal of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 2014.