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Alcohol and Health

What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Tequila?

August 13, 2023
22 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 13, 2023
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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.
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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.
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In the world of booze, tequila packs a unique punch. Here’s how author Laurie Perez describes it in Torpor: Though the Heart Is Warm: “We force a dull clash of cups and pour everything down at once. The hard tequila shudders that never happen in the movies. First your head feels light, then it starts receiving the distress signals from the throat, lungs, belly. Your shoulders jerk to shake off the snake that wrapped around you and squeezed. It burns. The good burn.”

It’s a party, and someone shouts "Tequila!" Suddenly, it’s shot glasses for everyone. But what exactly does that shot of tequila do to your body? Is tequila good for you? Or, rather, is tequila healthy compared to other types of booze?

Let’s just say it might not be the party pleaser it’s made out to be. After learning more about the components of tequila and the science behind it, we can understand how it affects our body at a deeper level.

Tequila: What's in It?

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Tequila, primarily produced in Mexico, is made from the blue agave plant. Native to Mexico's sun-drenched fields, the blue agave looks like an oversized aloe vera with long, spiky leaves, and it can take 7-10 years to reach maturity. The environment, soil composition, and cultivation techniques all play a role in giving tequila its unique profile.

There are the main types of tequila:

  • Blanco (or Silver). Unaged or aged up to 2 months and clear in color, this variety is the closest to the blue agave flavor. 
  • Joven (or Gold). Typically unaged, this type often combines blanco tequila with colorants and flavorings, resulting in a golden hue meant to imitate a reposado without the associated cost.
  • Reposado. Aged between 2 months and 1 year in oak barrels, reposado takes on some of the “vanilla” flavor of the oak. It’s light amber in color and has a smoother taste compared to blanco.
  • Añejo. Aged between 1 and 3 years in small oak barrels, this one is dark amber in color and has a smoother and more complex flavor profile.
  • Extra Añejo. Aged more than 3 years, this variety can be deep amber to quite dark in color due to extended interactions with the oak — and, it’s often the most expensive.

As for the chemical components of tequila, here’s the inside scoop:

  • Alcohol content. Tequila is made up of around 40-50% ethanol (alcohol), the psychoactive component of alcohol.
  • Natural sugars. Does tequila have sugar? Oh yes; it’s calories galore! The types of sugars derived from the blue agave plant are agavins. Agavins have a different metabolic effect from processed sugars found in other alcoholic beverages, which can influence how the body responds to tequila. Due to its high sugar content, a shot of tequila contains around 100 calories. It's like nibbling on a candy bar with every shot!
  • Terpenes and esters. These organic compounds give tequila its distinctive taste. The type and combination can vary based on factors like the fermentation process, distillation method, and aging duration.
  • Minerals. The blue agave plant absorbs minerals from the soil, and some of these make their way into tequila. These can include traces of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Don’t be fooled — these trace minerals don’t make tequila healthy!
  • Methanol. A small quantity of methanol is a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. While excessive methanol can be harmful, regulated tequila production generally ensures its levels remain quite low.
  • Aging elements. Tequilas labeled as “reposado” (rested) or “añejo” (aged) are stored in wooden barrels for specific periods. This imparts additional flavors to the tequila, thanks to compounds from the wood like tannins, lactones, vanillin, and lignin.

Taking a Shot

When tequila enters the body, its effects include more than just a potential dance on the table. Here are 5 ways in which tequila affects the body:

Stage 1: The Absorption Phase

Tequila, like all alcoholic beverages, undergoes an absorption phase when consumed. This phase is critical in determining how quickly the effects of alcohol are felt in the body. Once ingested, the alcohol enters our bloodstream through the stomach and intestines. This is where the "buzz" starts, as our blood alcohol content (BAC) rises.

Tequila, given its alcohol content, is absorbed relatively quickly into the bloodstream. The rate of absorption can be influenced by various factors:

  • Food. Having food in the stomach can slow the absorption of tequila. Food can dilute the alcohol and delay its passage into the small intestine, where it is absorbed most efficiently.
  • Concentration. The higher the concentration of alcohol in a drink, the faster it tends to be absorbed. This means that shots of tequila, which are undiluted, can lead to a rapid increase in blood alcohol concentration.
  • Carbonation. Tequila shots are not carbonated, but it's worth noting that carbonated alcoholic drinks (like soda mixers) can speed up the absorption of alcohol.

While the liver metabolizes most of the alcohol we consume, around 20% is directly absorbed through the stomach lining into the bloodstream. This is why the effects of alcohol, including tequila, can be felt shortly after drinking.

A rapid rise in BAC leads to intoxication, reduced inhibitions, and impaired judgment. Tequila's high alcohol content and its potential for rapid absorption, especially on an empty stomach, can lead to a swift increase in BAC.

During the absorption phase, as BAC rises, we might experience mood elevation, increased sociability, and a sense of relaxation. However, these effects are short-lived, and they quickly turn negative with overconsumption. The line between pleasure and risk is thin, especially with drinks as potent as tequila.

Stage 2: The Unique Agave Effect

The agavins (natural sugars) in tequila have a unique role in the absorption process. Agavins are derived from the blue agave plant, and no, they're not similar to the agave syrup you might drizzle over your pancakes. Unlike the more commonly known agave nectar or syrup found in stores, agavins are not sweet and cannot be used as sweeteners.

If you've ever noticed that tequila gives you a different "buzz" compared to other drinks, agavins’ unique composition might be the reason. Some studies suggest they act more like dietary fibers and are not easily broken down. Bypassing the usual digestive process means that agavins might not raise blood sugar levels in the same way other sugars might.

As a result, tequila offers a slightly different metabolic experience than other alcoholic drinks, possibly leading to a smoother, more gradual sensation of intoxication. Some tequila drinkers report a “cleaner” or “smoother” buzz, which might be attributed, in part, to agavins.

But is tequila “good” for you? Before you start considering tequila a health drink, pump the brakes. While there's some talk about agavins possibly aiding in weight loss or benefiting gut health, concrete evidence is still on the horizon. Tequila is still a potent beverage, and the overall negative impact of the alcohol in it remains the same.

Stage 3: Entering the Brain

Alcohol affects neurotransmitters in the brain, impacting coordination, judgment, and mood, and tequila is no exception. In fact, its rapid absorption might lead to faster perceived effects on mood and judgment.

Once tequila is in the bloodstream, it makes a beeline for the brain. There it interferes with several processes, and the effects can take effect quite quickly:

  • GABA. This neurotransmitter helps keep the brain calm and relaxed. Tequila amplifies GABA's calming effects, often leading to a feeling of relaxation or sleepiness.
  • Glutamate. This is the "go-getter" neurotransmitter that helps our neurons fire. Tequila inhibits this action, slowing things down and affecting our reaction time.
  • Dopamine. When we sip tequila, our brain releases the pleasure and reward neurotransmitter dopamine, which contributes to the temporary pleasurable sensations.
  • Prefrontal cortex. Tequila can mellow out the prefrontal cortex, the area of our brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control. This leads to a more relaxed approach to decisions, which, depending on the circumstances, might either be amusing or something you'd rather forget.
  • Hippocampus. The hippocampus, our brain's memory center, can get a bit foggy with too much tequila; new memories might be slow to form or not made at all. 
Tequila's Effects on the Body

Stage 4: The Dehydration Twist

We've all been there — waking up the morning after a tequila night with a mouth that feels like the Sahara and a thirst that could drain a water cooler. Why can tequila leave us so parched?

  • The alcohol effect. Tequila, like other alcohol, dehydrates the body. Alcohol’s diuretic properties cause the body to lose fluids. We're accelerating the loss of fluids with every sip or shot. Tequila, which is quite potent, can result in a swift onset of dehydration symptoms. This is often a significant player in the dreaded tequila-induced hangover.
  • More than thirst. The increased urination isn't just expelling water. It's also depleting our body of essential salts and minerals, like potassium while contributing to weakness, fatigue, and muscle cramps.
  • Impact on the brain. Dehydration doesn’t just impact the body. The brain can feel it, too. Our brain cells need a good balance of water and various elements to function optimally. When we're dehydrated, cognitive processes like focus, memory, and mood regulation suffer.
  • The hangover connection. Feeling like your head's in a vice grip after a night of tequila? Dehydration is a significant culprit. A lack of proper hydration can lead to headaches or exacerbate the hangover blues.
  • Combatting the dry spell. The good news? It’s possible to mitigate dehydration. Pairing tequila shots or cocktails with regular sips of water can help replenish lost fluids. Electrolyte-rich beverages can also balance out the minerals we lose.

Stage 5: Body Temperature Fluctuations

Tequila can cause a rapid spike in body temperature. That warmth that we may feel right after a shot? It's not just the burn of the drink — it’s our body reacting to the alcohol.

Tequila has a direct influence on our body's temperature dynamics:

  • The initial warmth. After taking a shot, many people report feeling a sudden warmth. That’s because alcohol, including tequila, causes blood vessels to dilate or expand, particularly those closer to the skin's surface. This increased blood flow initially makes our skin feel warm and toasty.
  • Core temperature dip. With all that warm blood rushing to our skin, there’s less blood in our core, which causes our internal temperature to drop slightly. That’s why, after the initial warmth, we might feel a bit chillier than usual.
  • Mild metabolism boost. The body works to metabolize the alcohol, which can temporarily increase your metabolic rate. This extra activity might produce a bit more internal heat, contributing to the feeling of warmth.
  • Sweating it out. Due to the temperature shift and increased metabolism, we might find ourselves sweating a bit more than usual after tequila consumption. It's the body's way of trying to regulate and maintain a comfortable temperature.
  • Chilling out. After the tequila's effects wear off and the body's temperature-regulating mechanisms come back into play, there might be a bit of overcompensation. This could result in feeling colder than usual once the initial warmth fades away.

As we can see, tequila can have a profound effect on the physical processes in our body, some of which might not be obvious at first glance.

Tequila and Health: More Than Just a Hangover

While a hangover is a temporary discomfort, consistent drinking can lead to more severe health concerns:

  • Liver disease. All alcohol strains the liver, but tequila’s specific components might interact with the liver differently. The natural sugars from the agave plant are processed differently in the body than other alcohol sugars, and excessive tequila drinking poses significant liver damage risks. Over time, the liver's constant battle with alcohol can lead to diseases like cirrhosis.
  • Addiction risks. Alcohol can lead to addiction, and tequila is no exception. Dependence can develop, affecting both physical and mental health.
  • Weight gain. Remember earlier when we asked, “Does tequila have sugar?” The verdict is clear: tequila's natural sugars — agavins — might not raise blood glucose levels like other sugars, but they still come packed with calories (there are about 100 calories in a 1.5 oz shot of tequila). Regular tequila shots can add up, making a dent in your daily calorie intake and potentially leading to weight gain.

Action Steps for Cutting Back or Quitting

Now that you have the inside scoop on what tequila does to your body, here's how you can take action:

  • Educate yourself. Understanding the impact of tequila on your body is the first step. Knowledge is power!
  • Infuse your own flavors. Experiment with infusing non-alcoholic beverages with flavors commonly paired with tequila, like lime, jalapeno, or even a hint of salt. This provides the essence without the alcohol.
  • Discover the world of mocktails. Explore non-alcoholic tequila alternatives or mocktails that mimic tequila’s flavor profile. Dive into recipes that use ingredients like agave syrup and fresh lime to get that tequila-esque kick without the actual spirits.
  • Connect with like-minded souls. Find (or create!) a community of people looking to moderate their alcohol intake. Sharing experiences, challenges, and triumphs can make the journey easier and more fulfilling. (The forum on the Reframe app is a great place to make connections!)
  • Plan ahead for social events. If you know you'll be around tequila, decide your limits beforehand. Consider bringing your own non-alcoholic alternative or even offering to be the designated driver. This gives you a valuable role and an inarguable reason to abstain.
  • Reward system. Create a reward chart for yourself. For every milestone (like a week without tequila or attending a party and sticking to mocktails), treat yourself to something special. Give yourself a spa day, a new book, or even a trip to a place you've always wanted to visit.

Own Your Story

Tequila may have a reputation as the life of the party, but the real story unfolds inside your body. By understanding the science behind the booze and taking actionable steps, you can make more informed decisions about your relationship with tequila and rewrite the story in a way that reflects the authentic you.

Remember, life's a party even without the tequila shots. Celebrate your health and well-being!

Summary FAQs

1. What's the primary ingredient in tequila?

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, primarily found in Mexico.

2. How does tequila's sugar content affect our metabolism?

Tequila contains natural sugars called agavins, which can act as dietary fiber and might not raise blood glucose levels. This gives tequila a unique metabolic profile compared to other alcoholic drinks.

3. What causes the initial warm feeling after taking a tequila shot?

Tequila causes blood vessels to dilate or expand, especially near the skin's surface, leading to an increased blood flow and the familiar warmth.

4. Why does tequila lead to dehydration?

All alcohol, including tequila, is a diuretic. This means it promotes water loss from the body, leading to dehydration, especially if one doesn't compensate by drinking enough water.

5. Can consistent tequila consumption impact liver health?

Yes, over time, regular and excessive drinking can strain the liver, potentially leading to conditions like fatty liver disease and cirrhosis.

6. Are there any potential bone health benefits from tequila?

Some studies suggest that the blue agave plant contains compounds that might boost calcium absorption and support bone health. However, this doesn't mean tequila should be consumed in excess. There’s not enough calcium in tequila to justify alcohol’s negative effects on bone health.

7. How can a person enjoy tequila responsibly and minimize health risks?

Moderation is key. Being aware of tequila's impacts, alternating with water to stay hydrated, and setting limits can make your tequila experience both enjoyable and healthier.

Say Adios to Tequila 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.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

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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