It’s the amount of alcohol, not the order in which you drink, researchers say.
If you drink beer before switching to wine, you’ll be fine.
But if you drink in reverse, preferring your vino first, you may not feel so great.
That’s how the alcohol-fueled axiom goes. Others such as “beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, in the clear” are also tossed about in fraternity houses, dinner parties, or anywhere someone is likely to imbibe a bit too much.
But now researchers at the Witten/Herdecke University in Germany and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom say no rhyme can prevent you from getting a hangover, no matter how clever.
The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the order of drinks people consume to determine if you’re more or less likely to have a hangover based on your alcohol line-up.
To get their findings, the researchers had to recruit people to — what else —drink copious amounts of beer and wine.
In all, 90 participants ages 19 to 40 signed up and the researchers split them into three groups.
The first group consumed 2.5 pints of cold lager beer followed by four large glasses of chilled white wine.
The second group consumed the same amount of alcohol, but in reverse: drinking four glasses of chilled white wine, then downing the 2.5 pints of cold lager.
The third group, the “control group,” drank only wine or beer.
Throughout the experiment, researchers asked participants to answer questions about their well-being. They also asked them to rank their level of drunkenness on a scale of 1 to 10. (If participants felt ill or wanted to stop drinking, they were permitted to do so.)
When participants had guzzled their last gulp, they ranked themselves one final time on the drunkenness scale. They were then given a glass of chilled water and sent to bed at the study facility. Researchers supervised them during their sleep.
The next morning, researchers asked the participants if they were experiencing any symptoms of a hangover, and they had to rank their symptoms from 0 to 56, along the Acute Hangover Scale. This scale accounts for hangover symptoms such as thirst, loss of appetite, stomachache, nausea, and headache.
A week later, after the participants had a chance to dry out (and shake the aftereffects of the hangover), they returned to the study facility and repeated the experiment in reverse.
The group that started by drinking beer began with wine this time. The wine-first group were given beer first. The “control group” switched their drink to the opposite of what they had previously.
Again, the participants were asked to rate their drunkenness throughout the experiment. The next morning, they were asked again to score their hangover.
In the end, researchers found no significant differences in hangover scores among the three groups. No matter their drinking order, participants reported similar hangover scores.
“Using white wine and lager beer, we didn’t find any truth in the idea that drinking beer before wine gives you a milder hangover than the other way around,” Jöran Köchling, the study’s first author and a researcher at Witten/Herdecke University in Germany, said in a press release. “The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover.”
Still, the researchers managed to gain some useful insights.
Women tended to have slightly worse hangovers than men, but individual factors such as age, sex, body weight, and drinking habits did not appear to help predict hangover intensity.
Two things that did appear to foretell a heavier hangover: vomiting and perceived drunkenness.
People who got sick during or after drinking the allotted amount were more likely to report a severe hangover.
Likewise, people who scored themselves higher on the 0-to-10 scale of drunkenness reported higher scores on the hangover scale, too.
“The order in which you drink alcohol does not matter because it all reflects on how many grams of alcohol the person is drinking,” Dr. Tarek Hassanein, a specialist at the Southern California Liver Centers and a professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, told Healthline. “Over 30 grams for men and over 20 grams for women a day is deleterious to the liver, irrespective of the type of alcohol. So whether you drink beer, liquor or wine, it makes no difference. Everything depends on the total grams.”
Hangovers, which more than three-quarters of American drinkers experience, are a bit of a mystery to scientists.
It’s not clear why some people have them while others don’t.
It’s also not clear what makes them worse from time to time, or even what can be done to prevent them (except not drinking, of course).
Hangover symptoms are likely the result of higher-than-normal blood alcohol concentrations and the effects of that concentration dipping back toward normal.
Likewise, people who drink ample amounts of alcohol may also be more likely to experience dehydration, which can make you feel ill even when you’ve had no beer or wine.
Until this study, it was thought the order in which you drank alcohol may have an impact. Now it appears that is not true.
However, it’s important to note that this study has some limitations with regards to hangover-inducing drinking.
Previous studies have found some dark spirits and drinks may actually make hangovers worse. Research suggests that drinks with more congeners (natural compounds in liquor that give off distinctive flavors and color characteristics) are more likely to cause severe hangovers.
This study used light-colored beverages: lager and white wine.
Also, the researchers struggled to recruit participants to drink non-alcoholic beer and wine, so the study lacked this form of control group.
But hangovers are — or at least could be — a red flag, Hassanein says.
“Hangovers vary between people and their tolerance to the amount of alcohol they ingest,” he noted. “Hangovers alert the drinker to their ability of handling amounts of alcohol in whatever beverage they drink.”
A tried-and-true method for preventing hangovers: be a teetotaler. Abstain entirely.
But if the allure of pinot or a pint is too strong for you, just remember the rule that applies for so many things: moderation.
Next time you head out for an evening of imbibing, pace yourself. One drink per hour gives your body time to process the alcohol so you don’t become overly tipsy. Sip seltzer water with lime or a glass of plain ol’ H2O if you need something in your hand.
“Unpleasant as hangovers are, we should remember that they do have one important benefit, at least. They are a protective warning sign that certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behavior,” Dr. Kai Hensel, a senior clinical fellow at the University of Cambridge and senior author of the study, said in a press release. “In other words, they can help us learn from our mistakes.”