You’ve probably heard the saying, “Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”

It refers to the idea that you may be able to avoid a hangover simply by remembering to drink your alcoholic beverages in a specific order.

Though many people swear by this rule, others question whether there’s any research to back it up.

This article looks at the scientific evidence to determine whether this saying has any basis in reality.

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There are many theories regarding how this popular saying came about.

One hypothesis is that most people begin the evening with drinks that have a lower alcohol content, such as beer and wine, and move on to liquor as the evening progresses.

Then, if they happen to get sick at the end of the night or feel terrible the next morning, some may blame it on the drinking order.

Another theory is based on the idea that liquor’s high alcohol content is more likely to spike your blood alcohol levels in a short period of time, compared with beer (1).

Therefore, finishing the evening with liquor after a few hours of drinking beer can quickly push a person’s already elevated blood alcohol content over the edge, contributing to a hangover.

The theory also suggests that starting the evening with liquor and ending it with beer may slow the subsequent spikes in blood alcohol levels, potentially limiting the severity of hangover symptoms come the following morning.

Summary

“Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear” is a popular phrase with unknown origins. Most explanations appear to stem from people’s subjective experiences of drinking and hangovers.

Despite the elaborate theories, the order in which you consume your drinks is unlikely to influence whether you experience a hangover the next day.

That’s because alcohol begins to be absorbed into your bloodstream as soon as it reaches your stomach. Thus, all the alcohol you drank the night before will have been absorbed well before your hangover takes effect (1).

As long as the total amount of alcohol you consume remains the same, there’s no reason why drinking liquor before beer would protect against a hangover any more than drinking beer before liquor.

That said, if a particular drinking order consistently causes you to consume larger amounts of alcohol than another, it may be more likely to cause a hangover the next day.

Summary

As long as the total amount of alcohol you consume remains the same, there’s no good reason why drinking liquor before beer would protect you from a hangover any more than drinking beer first.

Even though drinking order has little impact, many other factors can affect your risk of experiencing a hangover (2, 3):

  • The amount of alcohol you drink. High blood alcohol levels are more likely to induce a hangover than low blood alcohol levels.
  • Whether you ate. Drinking on an empty stomach causes alcohol to quickly move from your stomach to your intestines, where it can be absorbed even more rapidly and spike your blood alcohol levels.
  • How frequently you drink. Heavy drinkers are more likely to reach blood alcohol concentration levels that lead to hangovers. Some evidence also suggests that repeated heavy drinking may increase the severity of hangovers.
  • Genetics. Your genes can influence how your body metabolizes alcohol and impact the effects that alcohol may have on sleep, hydration, blood sugar levels, and blood vessel dilation — all factors that can influence hangover severity.
  • Congeners. These compounds are found naturally in alcoholic beverages and can contribute to hangovers. Certain types of alcohol contain higher levels of congeners than others.
  • Smoking. Hangovers may be more frequent in people who smoke compared with nonsmokers.

Interestingly, despite all these factors, it appears that around a quarter of people who drink alcohol never experience a hangover, despite their drinking behaviors (2).

Summary

The amount and type of alcohol you drink, how often you drink and smoke, your genetics, and whether you ate before you drank may all influence the likelihood of developing a hangover.

The search for strategies to prevent a hangover includes many myths.

The advice to drink liquor before beer is likely one of them, as doing so appears to do little to reduce your risk of experiencing a hangover after a night of heavy drinking.

You're more likely to avoid a hangover by not drinking on an empty stomach, not smoking, and limiting how much and how often you drink alcohol.