“Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker.” Right? Maybe not. Does the order of your alcoholic beverage consumption have any impact on your next-day headache?
First, the Basics
On average, the liver can only process one standard-sized drink per hour—that’s twelve ounces of beer, one shot of hard liquor (1.5 ounces), or five ounces of wine. That “serving size” from liquor to beer is quite a leap. That’s because liquor makes blood alcohol levels rise quicker than a beer, which is why people who consume liquor get tipsy quicker than those cracking cans of the cold stuff.
Different types of alcohol contain different amounts of compounds called congeners. Congeners are the minor chemical constituents that give a distinctive character to a particular wine or liquor. Plus, they’re responsible for some of the psychological effects of spirits.
So, what do congeners have to do with the liquor before beer debate? Basically, drinks with a higher congener level—your darker beverages such as brandy, whiskey, rum, and red wine—will increase hangover symptoms. Mixing different alcohols with different levels of congeners can increase stomach irritation (AKA, make you “sicker”). With any alcohol you choose to drink, your inhibition decreases causing you to think you are able to drink more.
Is It True?
There are many theories about where this “beer before liquor” phrase actually came from, but the most common hypothesis seems to stem from personal experience. Typically, people begin their evenings with casual drinks containing a lower alcohol content like beer or wine, and then make the switch to harder liquor if they continue their night out. As a result of this behavior, people often blame the “drinking order” for why they’re sick at the end of the night or terribly hungover in the morning.
Another theory is based on the idea that the high alcohol content of liquor is more likely to spike your blood alcohol levels in a short period of time, in comparison to beer. Finishing the evening with liquor after a few hours of drinking beer can push a person’s already elevated blood alcohol content over the edge, contributing to a hangover.
Despite these theories, what we do know for sure is that too much of any form of alcohol will eventually make you sick. It’s not what you drink, but rather how much you drink that will be the reason for your nasty hangover.
Just In Case…
If you do happen to find yourself in a “never sicker” situation, don’t reach for your favorite Starbucks drink. Instead, drink some Gatorade or a beverage containing electrolytes to counter the dehydration. Since coffee is a diuretic, it can actually make your hangover worse. Alcohol dehydrates you because your body stops producing the hormone that allows you to retain water, so it’s important to replenish your body with what’s missing!
By Michela Pantano, contributor for Ripleys.com