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Is “Beer Before Liquor, Never Been Sicker” a Real Thing?

The science behind the classic frat-house mantra

When you’re young and first starting to party, drinking and throwing up seem to go hand-in-hand. So you receive a classic tip from a buddy or parent — one you quickly disregard — that beer before liquor will make you sicker.

But is knocking back a Bud before you do shots really the reason you’re 15 and puking in your mom’s basement bathroom?

The origin of this rhyme is lost to drunk history, but it was probably first spewed by some random drunk guy in some random pub. It also, like many supposedly wise alcohol-related “truths,” has virtually no scientific backing.

Dr. Aaron White, senior scientific adviser at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says that while there are a few plausible explanations that supporting the saying, the amount you drink matters a whole lot more than the order in which you consume your drinks.

“It seems plausible that taking shots after drinking beer could irritate the stomach lining in some people, making them feel sick,” White explains. “But another possibility is that some people are more likely to do shots once they’re already intoxicated on beer.”

In other words, you may be inclined to drink more alcohol by following beer with liquor than you would following liquor with beer—and that’s the real culprit behind your misery the next morning.

It also depends what kind of hard liquor you’re throwing back. White adds that drinking dark spirits, like whiskey, may also result in worse hangovers. They contain congeners — impurities introduced during fermentation that are responsible for some of the taste and aroma of whatever you’re drinking. One 2009 study conducted by Brown University researchers, during which 95 healthy alcohol users drank a lot of either enough whiskey or vodka, found that those who consumed the whiskey experienced more intense headaches, nausea, thirst and fatigue.

At the end of the night, what matters more than any witty rhyme is how much alcohol you actually drank. We get that this is hard, as many of us can’t help but keep drinking once we’re already drunk. But the fact that you’re jumping from beer to Long Island Iced Teas isn’t the reason for your unhappy belly. You feel like shit because you downed more than a dozen drinks total. (And because you are ashamed for drinking Long Island Iced Teas.)