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Is There Actually Any Truth to ‘Beer Before Liquor, Never Been Sicker’?

Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”

You’ve probably heard this phrase dozens of times. You may have even seen it referenced on TikTok, where videos tagged #liquorbeforebeer have garnered more than 3.3 million views.

Sometimes wine is thrown into the mix. Other common versions of the line include, “beer before wine and you’ll feel fine; wine before beer and you’ll feel queer.” Or “grape or grain, but never the twain,” meaning one shouldn’t imbibe wine and beer in the same sitting.

Consuming too much alcohol is never a good thing. But these sayings suggest that mixing and matching your drink orders could affect how you feel the next day.

Is there any truth to it? We asked health experts to share their thoughts.

Where Do These Phrases Come From?

It’s tough to say where the phrases originated, but they’re likely generations old. There are iterations of the adages in different languages around the world, seemingly based on theories surrounding how people metabolize alcohol.

When you drink, the body immediately starts producing more enzymes to detoxify, aka break down and remove alcohol from the system, says Dr. Harvey Allen, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist and internal medicine physician at Digestive Disease Medicine of Central New York.

“Drinking hard liquor first usually overwhelms the body’s liver enzymes systems,” he says. “However, starting with beer decreases these liver enzymes in the body. When hard liquor is ingested following beer, the liver is completely overwhelmed and doesn’t have enough time to generate detoxification enzymes causing significant hangover symptoms.”

Other experts suggest that carbonated beverages like beer and Prosecco can irritate the stomach lining, which makes you absorb alcohol more quickly. This may also make you more sensitive to spirits consumed later. More fuel for this theory: Research published in 2007 showed most of the study subjects absorbed vodka faster when it was mixed with carbonated water.

Another explanation relates to a beverage’s alcohol by volume (ABV). Generally speaking, beers are usually larger in volume than wine or spirits-based drinks, but contain a lower ABV. So, it’ll take you longer to drink a beer than a shot or a cocktail, which theoretically gives the body more time to flush out the alcohol.

Is There Any Truth Behind These Sayings?

Potential explanations aside, there’s little scientific evidence to suggest that ingesting types of alcohol in a specific order can actually decrease your chances of getting a hangover or make one more bearable.

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019 found that there was no evidence to support the idea that you can avoid a hangover by drinking beer before or after wine. It also showed that hangovers weren’t more or less severe when someone stuck to one type of drink and didn’t mix alcohols.

“What really matters is the amount of alcohol that you consume,” says Sandra Arévalo, RDN, CDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

She explains that about 20% of the alcohol you drink is absorbed in the stomach, and the rest in the small intestines. So, the liver needs time to clear alcohol from the bloodstream.

“If we drink too much or too fast, we will feel it because we are not giving our liver enough time to clear the alcohol in our blood,” says Arevalo.

Hangover symptoms start when your blood alcohol levels drop significantly, which usually occurs the morning after drinking too much, adds Allen.

“After a night of heavy drinking, depending on what and how much you drink, you may notice fatigue, weakness, excessive thirst, dry mouth, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, shaking and mood disturbances,” he explains.

What Actually Affects How You Feel After Drinking?

Drinking too much, especially regularly, is never recommended. Anyone who drinks any amount of alcohol can experience a hangover. But some people are more susceptible than others, says Allen. Genetics are mostly to blame for that.

“A single drink of alcohol is enough to trigger a hangover for some people, while others may drink heavily and escape the hangover entirely, as multiple various factors can contribute to hangovers,” explains Allen.

Not drinking enough water or eating while you’re drinking plays a role, Arevalo adds. Alcohol is a diuretic, which makes you urinate and sweat more, and that causes you to lose electrolytes and fluids and potentially become dehydrated.

Drinking on an empty stomach makes it easier for the body to absorb alcohol, which increases the likelihood of a hangover.

“The best foods to eat while drinking are those that stay in the stomach for a long time, such as high-protein, high-fat foods,” says Arevalo. Think classic bar food: nachos, burgers, chicken wings and pizza.

According to Allen, alcohol can also cause your blood sugar to drop, which might trigger headaches, fatigue, weakness, shakiness, nausea and other hangover symptoms.

Smoking while you drink, taking certain medications or a having bad night of sleep can also increase the likelihood of a hangover, he adds.

In addition, alcohol tends to stay in the bloodstream longer for women than men, according to Arevalo. This is perhaps because it takes women longer to metabolize alcohol, possibly because of body chemistry and composition.

So, even if you swear by the “beer before liquor” rule, it’s doubtful that drinking order has much to do with your hangover.

“Really, it’s the number of drinks,” concludes Arevalo.