When you first start drinking, older, more experienced imbibers love to come at you with their own bits of wisdom. And when you’re about to take your first sip from a cheap keg at a college party, why wouldn’t you trust the senior with shots confidently telling you “liquor before beer, you’re in the clear”? The last thing you want is to look like some loser who is sick to their stomach in Psych 101 when you could have trusted the 21-year-old sage. They’ve been to bars. Legally. They know what’s up.
But once you turn, oh say, 31, are those still words to live by? Is the science behind those party mantras that are burned into your brain sound? To get to the bottom of these many alcohol myths, I
shotgunned a brewski with consulted with Dr. Indika Edirisinghe, a professor of food science and nutrition at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He made it very clear that there’s no blanket statement that can really be made about any way that your body might react to alcohol—that’s strictly between you and your liver. Still, there are some hard facts to debunk and confirm some of these statements.
“The bottom line is, alcohol is alcohol, whether it’s in beer or wine or spirit or any other brand—alcohol is alcohol,” Edirisinghe says. For the most part, the order in which you consume drinks will have no effect on your puke factor that night or even the hangover the next day. It’s about the amount of alcohol you’re forcing your body to metabolize at once, not the form in which you consume it.
In fact, in some cases drinking beer before liquor may actually save you—because beer is a higher volume drink with a lower alcohol percentage, you’re actually consuming more water than if you were to drink liquor straight, lessening the painful effects of dehydration.
The main reason this is probably true is because in general, people drink any form of liquid faster through a straw, and with alcohol, the faster you drink it, the faster it hits you.
“One of the unique things about alcohol is it can absorb from your gut, from your intestine very quickly. You drink alcohol, within two, three minutes you see it in blood,” Edirisinghe says. “You can drink a beer easily within two minutes or even in one minute, but some people can drink one beer can for two hours, three hours. At that time, you take a little bit of alcohol then, and you absorb a little bit of alcohol.”
The number of times I’ve gotten sleepy at a party and had someone offer me a shot of tequila “because it’s an upper” has been enough that I started to believe it was true. The actual truth is, all alcohol is capable of giving you energy when it metabolizes, in the same way that eating food gives you energy, even though that’s not the healthiest way to go about things.
“If you’re starving and drink alcohol, that might be a way to get energy, but that’s very extreme,” Edirisinghe says. “If your system is saturated, if you don’t need any energy, but you’re drinking a lot of alcohol, because you don’t need energy all the alcohol will be converted into fat.”
When alcohol hits your liver it’s either going to be metabolized into that aforementioned energy/fat or water. There’s not so much a question of if breaking the seal is a real thing but rather a concrete statement that if you are drinking the seal will break and the more you drink, the more you’ll have to keep peeing.
“When you drink alcohol, the ADH (antidiuretic hormone) is suppressed so you start creating more and more urine,” Edirisinghe says. “When you drink a lot of alcohol in the case of beer, if you go to the bathroom many many times it is acceptable because you’re also drinking more water.”
The French Paradox has led us to believe that drinking a ton of red wine will actually save your life. And there is some truth to that due to the antioxidants present in the drink. Edirisinghe says while those antioxidants may help you to overcome some of the side effects of drinking and other ailments, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Just as you can have a deadly reaction to too much vitamin E, too many antioxidants can have an adverse effect on your liver.
Again, alcohol is alcohol. No combination of drinks or type of drink in itself causes a worse hangover—it’s all about the amount you drink. That being said, sometimes additives like sugar can change how the alcohol is being processed. “When your drink contains a lot of sugar, one thing that can happen is that the sugar takes over the metabolism,” Edirisinghe says. “The alcohol is directly going to the fat metabolism.”
“You drink in the night and you don’t remember anything, then in the morning you remember everything, you have all this pain, and the headache, and the drowsiness, but then you drink and you forget everything again,” Edirisinghe says. “That’s not a real cure, that’s short term but it’s going to aggregate.”
Essentially, all “hair of the dog” does is trick your brain into thinking you’re having a good time without fixing any of the physical ailments caused by alcohol, mostly dehydration. When you keep adding on booze, those ailments will just get worse and worse. Just listen to your mom, and drink as much water as you can the day after a wild night of knocking them back.
Which of these alcohol myths (or truths) surprise you most?