A popular proverbial phrase claims that if you drink beer before wine, you’ll always be fine—at least when it comes to avoiding a hangover. Switching to wine before beer, however, is liable to leave you “sick for a year.”
In actuality, Ian Sample writes for the Guardian, a new study led by British and German researchers suggests the order of your alcohol consumption has little effect on the severity of post-drinking queasiness. In other words, whether you start the night off with beer before wine or vice versa, you’ll still feel the consequences of your indulgence the morning after.
To test the veracity of the the age-old adage, scientists from Witten/Herdecke University and the University of Cambridge recruited 90 volunteers aged 19 to 40. Participants were split into three groups, Rachael Rettner reports for Live Science, and asked to down copious amounts of alcohol.
The first set drank around two and half pints of lager beer, then four large glasses of white wine. The second group started with wine and followed it up with beer, while the third group drank solely beer or wine. All consumed enough to reach a blood alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.11%. (In the United States, individuals with a BAC of 0.08% or higher are considered “legally impaired.”)
Once the drinking session concluded, participants received a glass of water and spent the night under medical supervision at the testing facility. The next morning, Sample notes for the Guardian, test subjects were assigned a score on the Acute Hangover Scale, which draws on symptoms such as fatigue, headache, poor appetite and nausea to rate hangovers on a scale of zero to 56.
One week later, BBC News’ Alex Therrien writes, volunteers returned to the test site for round two of the experiment. This time, those who had initially drunk beer before wine started with wine, while those who’d previously imbibed wine before beer launched into the day with lager. Members of the control group made a similar switch, shifting from their earlier drink of choice to the other option. Participants remained at the facility under medical supervision overnight; the following day, they received updated scores on the Acute Hangover Scale.
The scientists’ findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, reveal that the severity of subjects’ hangovers was not readily linked to the order of their alcohol consumption. Instead, Edith Bracho-Sanchez explains for CNN, the factors most likely to predict an intense hangover were how drunk individuals rated themselves during the act of drinking and whether they vomited. Unsurprisingly, those who assigned themselves scores at the higher end of a zero- to 10-point scale were more likely to feel unwell the following day, as were those who threw up at some point during the drinking session. According to the study, women tended to have slightly worse hangovers than their male counterparts, but factors including age, sex, body weight and drinking habits failed to predict hangover intensity as well as perceived drunkenness and vomiting.
“The truth is that drinking too much of any alcoholic drink is likely to result in a hangover,” study first author Jöran Köchling of Witten/Herdecke University says in a statement. “The only reliable way of predicting how miserable you’ll feel the next day is by how drunk you feel and whether you are sick. We should all pay attention to these red flags when drinking.”
It’s worth noting that the study only measured the effects of lager beer and white wine, so it remains unclear whether the team’s findings apply to other kinds of alcohol, from red wines to spirits and dark beers. As Richard Stephens, a Keele University psychologist who was not involved with the study, tells the Guardian, previous research has shown that certain compounds in darker drinks contribute to more severe hangovers, adding flavor and character at the cost of “unpleasant side effects.”
Kai Hensel, a senior clinical fellow at the University of Cambridge who acted as the study’s senior author, says that hangovers serve at least one key purpose: “They are a protective warning sign that will certainly have aided humans over the ages to change their future behaviour.”
“In other words,” Hensel concludes in the statement, “they can help us learn from our mistakes.”