Science! Does Mixing Your Booze Cause Hangovers?

Beer science!

“Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, in the clear.” I learned that in high school. Other versions, according to the BBC, include  “Wine before beer and you’ll feel queer. Beer before wine and you’ll feel fine,” and “Grape or grain, but never the twain.” Clever. But is it true? In and of itself, does mixing your booze cause hangovers? Let’s ask our good friend science…

Mixing drinks needn’t necessarily increase the overall amount of alcohol consumed, but it may do with cocktails. If combining three or four measures of spirits alongside other ingredients, a throbbing head and dry throat is probably just the result of consuming more alcohol in total.

No scientist seems to have done the perfect counter-balanced study where people are randomly assigned to drink beer followed by wine or wine followed by beer. But perhaps it’s not the grape or the grain that matters, but the effect that the strength of those drinks has on judgement. Beer is only between a third and half the strength of wine, so starting on it leads to less intoxication if followed by the stronger stuff. But if a person starts on wine or spirits, then their judgement may be impaired enough to drink more heavily later. There’s certainly evidence that people are not good at judging their own drunkenness. At low levels people overestimate the amount of alcohol in our blood, but after a few drinks they start to underestimate it.

So there you go. It ain’t the mixing of booze styles, it’s the amount you drink. Your choice of intoxicant can contribute, too. Brown liquors contain higher levels of congeners (stuff like tannins, acetone, and acetaldehyde), and these agents can contribute to the severity of your Irish flu.

Clear drinks such as white rum, vodka and gin tend to cause fewer and less severe hangovers because they contain relatively low levels of congeners. Perhaps those who mix their drinks are more likely to choose a dark-coloured drink containing higher levels of these substances simply by virtue of their wider drinking range, but again it isn’t the mixing in itself that causes the problem.

Once again, my loyalty to gin is validated by science. Thank you, gin. Thank you.