Credit: Seyoung An

It’s one in the morning on Friday night — somehow, with a lot of luck and the aid of the meandering zigzag on Locust, you’ve staggered back home. You’re perfumed with the cheap scent of Franzia (Sunset Blush, of course) and perched on your knees in front of the toilet. One hand desperately clasps the porcelain and the other is barely holding on to the bathroom wall. Should you pull trig? Ah, to hell with it. You’ve got a busy day tomorrow and you’ll feel better immediately.

I had never heard of “pulling the trigger,” or “pulling trig,” before coming to Penn. The act is not unique to our school; even back in California, friends would throw up to avoid a hangover the next day. And I’m sure people have made themselves yak ever since alcohol was invented back in who-knows-what year. It seems to make sense. Your body will naturally make you throw up once you drink a certain amount — what’s wrong with speeding up the process?

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“Pulling trig” is thrown around so often here that it sounds like a fun social activity you and your friends do on a Friday night. Picture this: four of your friends in a circle around a white toilet bowl, blasting Drake, taking turns while laughing the whole time. Pulling trig has become the holy cure for a wild night of debauchery, but no one seems to know exactly what it does. From talking to my friends, I’ve heard theories that it “gets the alcohol in your body out of your system” and that it is a “guaranteed hangover cure.” I decided to see for myself what exactly made it so effective.

Here are the facts I dug up: Your body absorbs a bit of alcohol from your stomach and most of it from your small intestine. Once the alcohol enters the bloodstream, it goes to your liver, where it is metabolized. The whole absorption process takes 30 to 90 minutes depending from a variety of factors, including differences from person to person (genetics, age, sex, and race) and how much food you have in your stomach. The reason you feel drunk is that the alcohol in your bloodstream also circulates to your brain.

Throwing up, forced or otherwise, will clear the contents of your stomach. Logically then, if it’s been more than 90 minutes since you last ingested alcohol, all the alcohol has entered your bloodstream and there is no reason to pull trig.

An examination of the harms of vomiting takes us all the way back to seventh-grade health, when we were cautioned on the dangers of bulimia. Among other things, if done often, it can erode teeth and cause damage to the mucus lining of the esophagus. Vomiting also dehydrates you. Though this may not increase the chances of having a hangover, dehydration is a separate and severe issue with co-occurring effects. Given this information, pulling trig may actually make you worse off.

Then I was curious — why does everyone say that pulling trig makes you feel better? According to one theory, your body releases endorphins when you vomit, which make you feel better. You focus less on the stresses on your body and feel like you’ve purged the alcohol from your system. There may be a potential placebo effect involved as well; if you believe that it helps, you may feel better.

At this point I was quite shocked. All the research I’ve done has overwhelmingly indicated that pulling trig has no tangible benefit, so how did the phenomenon get so big at Penn? I think it comes down to a lack of formal instruction about alcohol and its effects on the human body. When browsing the abstracts for research articles, I was blown away to discover that dehydration is not the hypothesized cause of a hangover. Some of my closest friends have told me to chug a 44 oz. Wawa water to feel better the next day, and now I’m left wondering how much that actually helps. 

Granted, it has to be said that not much research has been done on this exact topic. When browsing through the Google Scholar, EBSCO, and NCBI sites, I found much research on vomiting, alcohol absorption and metabolism, and bulimia, but zero literature on self-induced vomiting for the purpose of preventing hangovers or lowering body alcohol.

All things considered, your body is yours and what you choose to do with it is no one else’s business. But, if you want my advice — take it easy on pulling trig.

ALEX KUANG is a College freshman from Pleasanton, Calif. studying biology. His email address is akuang@sas.upenn.edu. Trapped West Coaster usually appears every other Monday.

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