Intoxicating science: New book uncorks the scientific mysteries of booze

David Kerley, Olivier Knox, Richard Coolidge and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players

Top Line

If you’ve ever woken up with a throbbing head and flu-like symptoms after a night of alcoholic indulgence, it’s no mystery what caused the unpleasant side effects.

But there also are many mysteries surrounding the science of alcohol – including its mechanical effects on the body – and author Adam Rogers set out to find the answers in his new book, “Proof: The Science of Booze.”

“I wrote a feature for Wired about a mysterious fungus that lives on whiskey fumes,” Rogers told “Top Line,” explaining his foray into boozy science over drinks at Washington, D.C.’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon.

“It’s sort of a science mystery, and in the process of writing that, I got interested in a lot of the other processes that go into making and consuming alcoholic beverages,” he said.

In the course of spirited scientific study, Rogers stumbled into alcohol’s historical story and made the case in his book that booze actually helped to civilize humanity.

“Settling down to be able to make something, to take the agricultural products and use a natural process that people didn't understand” requires focus, Rogers said. “They didn't know how it worked, they didn't know what yeast was, what enzymes were, but they knew that there was a transformation that they could tame, [that] they could domesticate.”

The desire to perfect and control “the stuff” we now know as booze, Rogers said, served as one motivation for a sedentary, agriculture-based lifestyle.

While it’s safe to say that mankind has now perfected the art of booze-making, Rogers bemoaned the limits of our scientific understanding on the recreational drug that persist today.

“This is infinitely frustrating to me that of all the recreational drugs that people use, that ethanol is the only one that scientists have not articulated a mechanism,” he said. “Whatever judgments you have about the legality or morality of using marijuana or methamphetamine or opiates, people know how they work in your brain. Ethanol, it's not true. It's a mystery.”

That means that those dreaded hangovers remain somewhat of a scientific mystery beyond the unpleasant side effects experienced first-hand.

“Hangovers are super frustrating, not just because they're terrible and they tend to get worse as we get older, and the science behind them is terrible,” Rogers said. “Most of the stuff that you got told the first day before your first night at college about how to avoid a hangover is just wrong or is not proven.”

What is true, Rogers said, is that a hangover is “an inflammatory response.”

“The same thing happens when you have the flu,” Rogers said. “You sort of have those achy stupid gut problems, headache problems. That sort of looks like what a hangover looks like.”

To join “Top Line” for drinks with Rogers and see some of his favorite classic cocktails – including some that are dubbed as “hangover cures” – check out this episode.

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Melissa Young, and Vicki Vennell contributed to this episode.