How does Santa deal with all that booze?

Children UK - wide leave treats for Santa on Christmas Eve but just how drunk is he after his shift at work?
16 December 2021

Interview with 

David Nutt, Imperial College London and Carol Vorderman




It must be great to be Santa. On his one work day a year, he is inundated with mince pies, letters and a little tipple to tickle his tastebuds. He couldn't possibly leave the glass full, that would be considered rude after all! So, how much does the Big Man consume on the job? How does alcohol effect our brains? Could an alcohol alternative prevent Santa from feeling that dreaded hangover? Katie King asked Carol Vorderman and David Nutt for help in answering these very important questions....

Katie - My question for CSSSSSS is - how drunk is Santa at the end of Christmas Eve? Hmmm... I'm guessing the simple answer of 'very' won't quite cut it. Being the boozy Brits that we are, let's ask the wonderful British public what they leave about for Santa...

Ewan - Mince pie and brandy.

Rod - A single malt whiskey.

Jill - Tennents lager and fondant fancies.

Ruaridh - Santa always gets sherry.

Phoebe - A glass of sherry and a carrot.

Alan - Mince pies, carrots and milk.

Graham - Santa loves a Jim Beam in my house.

Sam - Some Somerset cider for Father Christmas.

Nico - Rich tea biscuits, milk, and the remote control for the tele whilst he was having his biscuits.

Katie - So on my list the main culprits are sherry, whiskey, the odd can of beer and some milk. Okay, now time for some maths and who better else to help me out than the one and only Christmas Carol, Carol Vorderman. Hi Carol, so I've been tasked with a question, can you help me please?

Carol - I absolutely can. I've looked up how many million households in Britain have children in them. There are 5 million of those households. Based on your superb research Katie, I've cut it proportionately. Let's say two fifths give Santa sherry, one fifth whiskey, one fifth beer and one fifth milk.

Katie - The milk's not gonna have much of an effect i don't think.

Carol - Not even warmed up. I always give him sherry, you know, dry sherry. He told me once, FACT, that he prefers sherry to whiskey.

Katie - Did he?

Carol - I'm just putting it out there. So sherry comes in at 20% alcohol strength, whiskey at 40%, not surprisingly and beer at 4%. Don't argue! Others will say, 'other beers are available at higher strengths'. I'm saying 4% as it makes my numbers a lot easier. Then obviously a serving size... 50 millilitres. It's quite generous.

Katie - That is generous, lucky Santa!

Carol - But then you see on Christmas Eve people are feeling generous.

Katie - A generous time of year, 50 ml for Santa.

Carol - Yes, 50 ml. The beer? I'm going with a small bottle.

Katie - I can't imagine Santa would want to drink a pint at each stop.

Carol - Well, that's a lot.

Katie - That's too much.

Carol - So, I'm giving him a small bottle of beer.

Katie - A small bottle for Santa.

Carol - But healthy proportions of sherry and whiskey. So if we multiply all of those up, a serving of sherry for Santa will be one unit of alcohol, whiskey - two units of alcohol and the beer - one and a half units of alcohol. What we find is the total number of alcoholic units given to Santa in the form of sherry was 2 million units.

Katie - 2 million?

Carol - Yeah, 2 million. Whiskey, it's another 2 million units, boom. And the beer? One and a half million units. So let's add them all up - two plus two plus one and a half is five and a half million units of alcohol given to Santa on Christmas Eve just when he arrives and then leaves Britain.

Katie - Thanks for your help Carol! I can't believe Santa is drinking a whopping five point five million units of alcohol from the UK alone. Let's hope the milk is enough to line that stomach. Hmm, not so sure. What I really want to know is, what is happening chemically when Santa is drinking alcohol. David Nutt-cracker from Imperial College, London is going to tell us a bit more.

David - Well, the first thing he gets is a taste and the smell. Then the alcohol flows down through his mouth and his esophagus into his stomach and gets absorbed into the blood and then goes into the liver. In the liver, alcohol is broken down into something called acetaldehyde, and that then flows around the body and causes the redness that Santa's famous for in his cheeks.

Katie - Let's be fair, red cheeks aren't the first thing that come to mind when I think about the effects of alcohol. Tell us David, how does booze affect our brains?

David - The key is when the ethanol gets into the brain. It starts to increase the activity of GABA. Now, GABA is the brain's main calming inhibitory transmitter. When you increase the effects of GABA, then you begin to feel calm yourself and more sociable. I guess that's where his 'ho, ho ho' comes from.

Katie - How much alcohol do we need to drink to activate the GABA system?

David - Well the first few molecules of alcohol going into the brain start to turn on the GABA system. It's by and large, the first two or three units of alcohol. They are largely working to increase the effects of GABA to get you into the party mood, so to speak.

Katie - Yeah, Christmas spirit!

David - That's exactly right.

Katie - If Santa drinks all of this sherry, and he's got thousands of glasses in his system, what happens then?

David - Well, let's hope he doesn't get that many unless he's extraordinary tolerant, but what begins to happen is your blood alcohol level rises, then alcohol starts to block the glutamate receptors in the brain. Now glutamate is the neurotransmitter that is critical for keeping you awake and for laying down memories. When you block those glutamate receptors, you start to forget things and that's a big problem for Santa as he might not remember where he has got to go for the next child.

Katie - He might forget some presents!

David - Indeed he might and then he might potentially even forget how to get home and get lost and who knows where he might end up.

Katie - Rudolph to the rescue we hope. If Santa is made up of a similar composition to us, how big would his liver need to be to break down all of this alcohol that he is consuming in that one night?

David - Well, you know, one does wonder what's inside that abdomen of his. You know, let's hope it is a really big liver, so he can cope with all the free drinks that people give him.

Katie - Let's hope so. Interestingly, David Nutt has developed an alcohol alternative called Sentia that stimulates the GABA system, which makes us feel relaxed without blocking the glutamate system. So we can still walk in a straight line afterwards. I asked David what would happen to Santa if we switched out sherry for his alcohol alternative?

David - He would feel mellow, he would feel relaxed but he wouldn't run the risk of forgetting where he's gotta go next and falling off his sledge and disappearing down the wrong chimney.

Katie - That's what we should be doing, we should give Santa your alcohol alternative rather than sherry just so that there's no risk.

David - Well, you can never say no, but certainly you could reduce his risk. That's a really interesting idea. I wonder if... I can do that! Yeah, I have my botanical drink, I could put that out for Santa and see if he likes it.

Katie - Definitely, you can ask for some feedback.

David - Well, he never gives you feedback, he just eats the pie and his reindeer seem to eat the carrots, but he never replies to my letter.

Katie - He doesn't respond to my letters either, so let's not worry about that one. Thank you to Christmas Carol and David Nutt-cracker for helping me answer the question of - how drunk is Santa at the end of Christmas Eve? My answer is simple - he must be a very, merry soul. Happy Christmas!


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