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Alcohol and Health

How Bad Is It To Mix Different Types of Alcohol?

Published:
August 30, 2023
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18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 30, 2023
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18 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 30, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 30, 2023
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18 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 30, 2023
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18 min read

You’re meeting some friends for happy hour after work. You order a beer, gulp it down, and are ready for another drink. You’re thinking about ordering a vodka soda, but your friend urges you to reconsider, saying, “Beer before liquor, never sicker.” You shrug it off. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard a saying like this. You’ve also been told, “Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear” and “Beer before wine, and you’ll feel fine.” 

But is the “beer before liquor” rule really true? Can you mix beer and wine? Or does mixing alcohol somehow make it stronger? And what about mixing liquors? In this post, we explore the dangers of mixing different types of alcohol and provide tips on how to better manage our alcohol consumption. Let’s dive in!

Beer or Liquor: Which Makes Us Sicker? 

A person mixing different types of alcohol at a bar

Many people assume that mixing drinks increases the risk of getting sick or makes our hangovers worse (hence all those rhyming warnings). But this actually isn’t true. Drinking a beer and then a gin and tonic will probably have the same effect on our body as sticking to one type of alcoholic beverage. 

When it comes to drinking alcohol, experts agree that there are only two things that increase our likelihood of getting sick or experiencing a hangover. Let’s take a closer look: 

  • The amount of alcohol we consume. The volume of alcohol we drink is the biggest factor determining how good or bad we’ll feel. The more alcohol we consume, the greater our chance of getting sick.
  • The rate at which we consume alcohol. How quickly we consume alcohol influences how potent its effects are during the time of consumption and the next day. For instance, we’ll feel intoxicated more quickly if we consume a shot in a couple of seconds compared to drinking a beer over the course of 30 minutes. The more intoxicated we become, the greater our chance of getting sick. 

Why Is Mixing Alcohol Bad?

So, why is mixing alcohol bad? The problem with mixing drinks comes down to the rate at which our body processes alcohol. When we take a sip of alcohol — whether beer, wine, or liquor — it’s quickly absorbed into our bloodstream through our stomach lining and small intestine. 

Once in our blood, alcohol is rapidly transported throughout our entire body, which is why it affects so many different bodily systems. Depending on how quickly our body’s tissues absorb alcohol, we’ll typically feel its effect within 15 to 45 minutes. 

Most alcohol that enters our body eventually ends up in the liver, which is responsible for metabolizing it, or breaking it down. Our liver can only efficiently process one standard-sized alcoholic drink per hour. In other words, it takes 1 hour for our body to metabolize just one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot. 

The amount of alcohol in our blood rises more quickly after drinking liquor than beer, due to its higher concentration of alcohol. If we drink liquor before beer, we’re likely to feel the effects of alcohol sooner. This might encourage us not to consume as much, thereby decreasing our chance of getting sick. However, drinking beer before liquor may lead to us becoming ill since our lowered inhibitions and impaired decision making may motivate us to consume higher concentrations of alcohol by doing shots or mixing stronger drinks. 

We can also think about it like this: if we drink beer and then liquor, we’ll most likely get more drunk than we would if we had started with liquor and felt the effects of alcohol earlier. If we end up getting sick, we may assume that the culprit was mixing the two types of alcohol in that order. In reality, the total amount of alcohol consumed in a short period of time caused us to become sick.

Furthermore, another problem with mixing drinks is that it makes it harder to track how much alcohol we’ve been consuming. For instance, it’s much easier to keep track of how many drinks we’ve consumed if we stick with one type of alcohol — such as beer or wine. If we’re bouncing around between cocktails, wine, beer, and shots, we’re likely to lose track pretty quickly. And when we’re not keeping track, we’re more likely to drink too much — which can cause us to get sick.

What Are the Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol?

There aren’t necessarily any side effects specifically related to mixing alcohol. In fact, one study looked at whether drinking wine before beer was associated with hangover severity and found that the order of alcoholic beverages didn’t have a significant effect.

However, certain types of alcohol may be more likely to lead to a hangover than others. This is because different types of alcohol have different congeners — toxins that result from the fermentation process. Congeners put extra stress on our liver to break down these substances and restore normal body function. 

Congeners also contribute to alcohol’s color and flavor. Darker alcohols (such as brandy, bourbon, whiskey, tequila, darker beer, and red wine) have more congeners than clear or lighter alcohols like vodka, gin, and lighter beers. Bourbon whisky, for example, contains 37 times the quantity of congeners as vodka! 

If we mix different kinds of alcohol, we may unknowingly drink higher amounts of congeners, which may lead to a more intense hangover, nausea, or dizziness the next day. Experts agree that feeling sick while intoxicated or experiencing a hangover is due largely to the amount of alcohol consumed and the time period it’s consumed over. 

Effects of Mixing Different Types of Alcohol

Why Do We Get Hungover From Alcohol?

Research suggests that hangovers are primarily caused by alcohol’s toxicity and dehydrating effects. Let’s take a closer look: 

  • Alcohol’s toxicity. When we drink, our bodies break down alcohol into several components, the first of which is acetaldehyde — a potent toxic chemical. Since our body can only process alcohol at the rate of one standard drink per hour, if we’re consuming large amounts of alcohol, acetaldehyde accumulates faster than our body can eliminate it. In the liver, acetaldehyde can cause inflammation and damage cells, contributing to that groggy, lethargic feeling the morning after drinking. 
  • Increased blood flow. Alcohol makes our blood vessels expand, a process known as vasodilation. This can lead to increased blood flow in our brain, resulting in a pounding headache.
  • Inflammation. Alcohol also increases gastric acid in our stomach, slowing the rate at which our stomach empties and inflaming the stomach lining. This can lead to nausea, vomiting, or even diarrhea. 
  • Dehydration. As a diuretic, alcohol leads to excessive water loss and dehydration. In large amounts, it can really deplete our body’s water supply and intensify our headaches.

Furthermore, there’s evidence that alcohol disrupts our immune system, which could also contribute to the symptoms of a headache, nausea, and fatigue. 

Several other factors play a role in how our body processes and tolerates alcohol. For instance, our sex might factor into hangover severity. One study found that women who had moderate to high estimated peak blood alcohol concentration (BAC) — 0.08 percent to more than 0.2 percent — reported hangovers with more severe nausea, tiredness, weakness and dizziness than men. This could be because women process alcohol differently from men: they tend to have less acetaldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), an important enzyme for metabolizing alcohol in the stomach.

Similarly, our age and weight also play a role. For instance, the older we are, the longer alcohol stays in our liver before it moves into our general bloodstream or is metabolized. Typically, older people have lower percentages of body water compared to those who are younger, which can also contribute to a higher blood alcohol content (BAC) and a slower processing time.

Alcohol and Medications: A More Dangerous Combination

Many people don’t realize that mixing alcohol with medications can be much more dangerous than mixing different types of alcohol together. Alcohol is known to interact with a wide variety of prescription and over-the-counter medications such as the following:

  • Painkillers (from opioids like Vicodin or Percocet to over-the-counter products like Tylenol or Advil)
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Statins (cholesterol medications)
  • Amphetamines (Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta)
  • Anti-anxiety medications (particularly benzodiazepines) 
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics

Mixing alcohol with these substances can lead to a higher risk of liver damage, irregular heart rate, heart attacks, overdose, and enhanced side effects from the medication. 

Tips for Managing Alcohol Consumption

We won’t have to worry about getting sick from alcohol if we avoid it entirely or consume it in moderation. Mindful drinking can be particularly effective at helping us make more intentional choices. Here are some other tips for managing our alcohol consumption:

  • Set drinking limits. It’s easy to lose track of the amount of alcohol we consume — especially if we’re mixing drinks. Decide in advance how many drinks you’ll have before you start drinking, and then stick to it. As a general rule, it’s best to limit yourself to one drink every hour. Using a notepad app on your phone can help keep you on track. 
  • Sip slowly. Try savoring each drink instead of gulping them down. It can help to stick to drinks that take time to finish, such as beer or wine (instead of shots or mixed drinks, which are intended to be gulped down).
  • Hydrate. Make sure you drink water before, during, and after drinking alcohol. A good rule of thumb is to consume a full glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have. This helps you stay hydrated and limits the amount of alcohol you consume by keeping you fuller. It also gives your liver time to metabolize the alcohol.
  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating before drinking slows alcohol absorption, giving our body more time to process it. Eating a nutritious meal high in protein or healthy fats can be particularly beneficial. You might also consider snacking while drinking: this helps us drink more slowly since it gives us another activity instead of solely drinking.
  • Choose wisely. You may be better off sticking to lighter-colored drinks, such as vodka, gin, and lighter beers, since darker ones contain more congeners — compounds that may intensify a hangover. Similarly, if we do choose to mix drinks, consider starting with a drink that has a high alcohol content and switching to something with a lower alcohol content, such as moving from vodka to beer. 

The Bottom Line

Mixing different types of alcoholic drinks doesn’t increase our risk of getting sick or having a hangover. It’s the quantity of alcohol consumed — not combined — and the rate at which we’re consuming it that influences intoxication and sickness. In other words, the problem with mixing beer and wine is that it usually leads to higher amounts of alcohol consumed more quickly in one sitting. This puts us in danger of intoxication and feeling hungover the next day.

If you’re struggling to manage your alcohol consumption, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. 

Summary FAQs

1. Why is mixing alcohol bad?

Mixing drinks doesn’t necessarily cause us to get sick or become hungover. However, when we mix different types of alcohol — such as beer and liquor — we tend to consume greater amounts of alcohol at a faster rate, causing us to become more intoxicated.

2. Can you mix wine and liquor?

Technically, yes. But, it might cause us to consume more alcohol over a short period of time, leading to greater intoxication and increasing our chance of a hangover. 

3. What are the side effects of mixing drinks? 

There aren’t necessarily side effects from mixing drinks. However, certain types of alcohol may be more likely to lead to a hangover. This is because different types of alcohol have different congeners — toxins that result from the fermentation process. 

4. Why do we get hungover? 

Hangovers are primarily caused by alcohol’s toxicity and dehydrating effects. The more we drink, the more we’re susceptible to a hangover. 

5. How can we manage our alcohol consumption?

If we choose to drink, we should try to set drinking limits, sip our drinks slowly, hydrate while consuming alcohol, and don’t drink on an empty stomach. 

Take Control of Your Drinking With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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