A recurring column exploring various statistics related to sexual wellness, mental health, and substance use at Colorado College, brought to you in collaboration with the Wellness Resource Center.
“Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker.”
You might be familiar with this idiom. It is one that has been passed down through generations of college students, party-goers, and seasoned alcohol drinkers alike. The rhyme is catchy, the message is clear, and many take this at face value, allowing it to constitute a norm of “reasonable” consumption.
This phrase, however, is simply one piece of a larger myth. Years of health studies have failed to provide conclusive evidence that either supports or rejects claims about the ill effects of mixing different types of alcohol. Instead, they conclude that it is the amount of alcohol consumed in a specific time frame, and not the type, that largely determines how drunk or sick one may feel.
The phrase does carry a modicum of rationale. Blood alcohol content levels raise faster after drinking liquor than after drinking beer. This rapid increase causes the effects of hard alcohol to be felt sooner. The immediacy of this drunkenness often encourages individuals to consume less, and thus decreases their chance of over-indulging and becoming sick.
On the flip side, it is fairly reasonable to believe that drinking beer before liquor may increase the likelihood of illness. Feeling little or no immediate effect from the beer, those drinking may become motivated to consume higher and stronger concentrations of alcohol. More alcohol equates to higher risk. However, regardless of potential explanations, it is clear that the rate of consumption is far more important than alcohol variety.
According to the 2017 National College Health Assessment Survey, 63% of Colorado College students who reported “partying” in the last 12 months said they kept track of the number of drinks they’d consumed. Additionally, 21% say they paced drinks to one or fewer per hour. Given that the liver can only efficiently process one standard-sized alcoholic drink in this time, our bodies deserve to see that percentage increase.
Llamapalooza, CC’s day-long spring music festival, is tomorrow. The combination of the event’s length with heightened substance accessibility (whether in school-sanctioned tents or dorm room stashes) makes over-intoxication and sickness extremely likely.
Remember to pace yourself. Irrespective of your drinking itinerary, there are ways to decrease the risk of sickness or hangover. Alternate alcoholic beverage with water or juice to keep hydrated. Food can absorb alcohol, so eat throughout the day to prevent it from moving directly to the bloodstream. Enjoy the beverage of your choosing, just don’t exceed the rate of intake.