There is a lot of mythology baked into drinking culture. You might believe, for instance, that once you pee during a night out, you’re doomed to make nonstop trips back to the bathroom because you “broke the seal,” but that’s not true. You might also believe that the “hair of the dog” will help you get over a hangover, but that’s false, too. Another old adage that gets thrown around a lot? “Beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, in the clear.”
That claim suggests that if you start your night with beer before switching to something harder, you’ll be sick, either that night or the next day, but if you start your night out with the hard stuff and move on to beer, you’ll be fine. Is that true? Let’s find out.
Why do people say and believe this?
We’ve all had too much to drink before. We all know how it feels to go to bed with the spins, wake up feeling sick, and spend the next day with a terrible headache. The fact is that we at fault for overindulging every single time, but it’s easier to put the blame on something else—in this case, the order in which the previous night’s many, many drinks were consumed.
Since it’s common to start off a night with beers, say at a tailgate, kickback, or pregame, before moving onto shots or mixed drinks once you get to the bar and the party vibes intensify, you might be inclined to blame the order rather than the sheer amount of booze consumed. This is understandable, but it’s wrong.
Why is this adage false?
Here’s the thing: Alcohol is alcohol. No matter what kind of alcohol it is, it can still get you drunk and still produce a hangover. Similarly, it can still make you sick. There is no magic liquor or beer that will prevent you from feeling gross if you drink too much of it. (If there were, we would absolutely know about it by now.) And the operative words there are too much.
Per Healthline, alcohol starts to be absorbed into your bloodstream the moment it hits your stomach, so by the time you feel hungover the next day, you’ve already taken in everything you drank the night before. The order is really irrelevant. That article also points out that the order in which types of alcohol are imbibed can cause certain people to consume more than they would if they did things the other way around. Look at your own habits. After a beer buzz, are you more likely to agree when your friend declares it’s time for a round of shots? Conversely, after having a few mixed drinks, are you grossed out by the thought of a filling beer?
While it’s clear this is subjective and based entirely on a person’s own habits, there is also some hard scientific evidence to back up the phoniness of claims that drinking order matters at all. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2019 dispelled the myth, finding after studying 90 participants that “neither type nor order of consumed alcoholic beverages significantly affected hangover intensity.”
That study also debunked a different, but similar, urban legend that I am a strong proponent of myself: “Grape or grain, but never the twain.” Those of us who (foolishly) believe in that one swear that there’s no hangover the next day as long as you stick to the same kind of drink all night. Still, while the study effectively dumped water—or light beer, if you prefer—all over that theory, too, I’m still sticking with it, but with the firm knowledge it’s bullshit. Why? Because whether it’s because I drink less when I stick to one type of alcohol, or because I believe it so strongly that I placebo-effect myself into feeling better the next day, I really do suffer fewer ill-effects when I don’t mix my poisons. (Because, oh right, alcohol is actually poison.)
If a certain myth resonates with you, feel free to use it as a guide next time you go out. Just know that there’s no science to back it up, and the real cause of your less-hungover morning is that you made better choices. If a catchy rhyme helps you act more responsibly—and lowers the chances you’ll wake up feeling like you were hit by a truck—I say you keep doing you.