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Hangover Myth: Does Mixing Drinks Really Make Your Hangover Worse?

If you truly want to stave off a hangover, consider taking measures to combat the true causes, such as dehydration, increased acid production, inflammation and acetaldehyde.

In your search for hangover cures, you may give serious consideration to the causes of a hangover. While we all know that drinking too much is the number one reason we experience hangovers, few of us are willing to give up a good time for our next-day comfort. So, what do we do instead? We look for other ways to mitigate the inevitable, such as by identifying lesser causes. Among others, a commonly touted culprit is mixing drinks. 

But is it true — does mixing beverages actually make your hangover worse? Check out what the science says.

What Exactly is a Hangover?

First, let’s discuss the particulars of a hangover. While few of us need a written definition to know what a hangover is, we’ll recap for those that do: A hangover is a group of unpleasant symptoms that develop after a night of overindulgence. Common hangover symptoms are as follows:

  • Headaches and muscle aches
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Dry mouth and excessive thirst
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Shakiness
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Sleep disturbances

None of these symptoms are pleasant, so how can you avoid them altogether? (Short of giving up drinking). Will sticking to one type of beverage throughout the night help?

Theory: Mixing Drinks Makes Your Hangover Worse

“Beer before liquor, you’ve never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”

You’ve likely heard it before — mixing alcoholic beverages on any given day contributes to a worse hangover. This is a myth.

Though studies have concluded that people who mix drink types tend to fare far worse the next day than those who don’t, no current physiological explanation exists that supports the notion that mixing drinks directly causes a more severe hangover. So, where did this myth come from? You’ve probably discovered the answer for yourself on a few occasions.

Researchers suspect that people who mix drinks tend to feel worse the next day than their single-drink counterparts for one simple reason: They drink more.1

People generally stick with one type of beverage until they reach a certain point of inebriation, at which point indulgence becomes less about the quality of a beverage and more about the quantity. Mixing drinks also reduces your ability to properly keep track of how many standard drinks you’ve consumed, especially when you switch between low- and high-alcohol content beverages.


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What Determines Your Level of Drunk?

Several factors affect your level of drunkenness throughout the night. The first and most influential factor is the rate at which you drink. The human body can only process one standard drink per hour. The more you drink per hour, the faster your Blood Alcohol Content levels will spike. Other factors that affect your level of drunk are as follows:

  • Genetics
  • Body weight/size
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Overall health
  • What you eat
  • Medications
  • Types of alcohol you consume

So, What are the Main Causes of a Hangover?

If mixing drinks doesn’t necessarily cause a worse hangover, what does? Below is a brief rundown of why you may feel crummy after a night of fun:

  • Alcohol is a diuretic, causing you to urinate more. This can lead to dehydration and associated symptoms.
  • Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid and interferes with the emptying process, both of which can cause nausea, pain and vomiting.
  • Alcohol reduces blood sugar levels, which leads to shakiness, fatigue, irritability and weakness.
  • Alcohol triggers an inflammatory immune response, which may contribute to memory problems, decreased appetite and the inability to concentrate.

The biggest culprit of a hangover, however, is acetaldehyde, which is the first byproduct of alcohol once it enters the liver. Researchers are finding that acetaldehyde is almost singularly responsible for most hangover symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, excessive sweating and flushed skin.

These, not mixing drinks, are the main causes of a hangover. If you truly want to stave off a hangover, consider taking measures to combat the true causes, such as dehydration, increased acid production, inflammation and acetaldehyde. One such measure to consider is an after-party detox that can help quickly flush your system of toxins and mitigate the worst of the symptoms.