It’s a commonly held belief that different kinds of alcohol have different kinds of effects on our mood and behavior: tequila makes us dance on tables and perform karaoke songs we don’t know; vodka makes us cry; and beer makes us dull-headed, stumbling a**holes. Some of those who have been to a local college bar on the weekend will attest to these stereotypes, but just how true are they? Do different kinds of alcohol actually lead to different “types” of intoxication?

According to most studies on the effects of alcohol, it seems that the main factors involving intoxication are not what kind of alcohol we drink, but rather how much we drink and how quickly we drink it.

Warshaw-Tequila shotsThe effects of alcohol are similar, whichever form they come in,” asserts Dr. Guy Ratcliffe, the medical director of the UK Medical Council on Alcohol.

Experimental evidence supporting Dr. Ratcliffe’s statement comes from a 1970 study contrasting the effects of consumption of vodka and bourbon on alcoholics. Subjects were observed over nine days while they drank bourbon and then for another nine days drinking vodka. When reporting outcomes, the researchers found “no consistent differences in behavior” between the two trials with participants consuming different drinks.

It seems that the varying effects we attribute to different drinks may have more to do with our own mood than the influence of the beverage itself. We often down tequila shots when we’re in the mood to go a little crazy, drink wine when we’re trying to feel mature or refined and drink beer when we’re feeling fairly mellow.

It seems that the varying effects we attribute to different drinks may have more to do with our own mood than the influence of the beverage itself.

All that aside, the kind of drink we have does seem to have an influence on the hangover that follows.

Warshaw-cocktailsBeer, wine and other drinks contain more than just ethanol, and it’s those chemicals and additives (especially the ones in cheap wine and off-brand spirits) that catch up with us the day after. A number of these substances are chemical byproducts of production, or so-called “congeners,”some of which have some nasty effects. A well-known congener is methanol, which, instead of being processed like ethanol, sits in our systems until it’s converted into formaldehyde or formic acid, two neurotoxins.

The production of neurotoxins highlights another important reminder for those who choose to drink: beyond the negative physiological effects of alcohol, such as delayed reflexes or nausea, alcohol doesn’t always make us feel too good emotionally. This is because in addition to increasing the amount of dopamine released in the reward center of the brain, alcohol can also enhance certain chemicals linked to feelings of depression.

So next time you go out, just remember: it’s not what you drink, but rather how much, how quickly and in what mindset that influence the “kind” of drunk you’ll get. And as far as hangovers go, do yourself a favor and lay off the boxed wine.


About The Author

"I am a Senior at Princeton University, pursuing a major in Psychology and preparing for a career in medicine and journalism. I have worked as an intern for the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF), the Peter C. Alderman Foundation (PCAF), the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, DC., and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. My work for the Peter C. Alderman Foundation included a three-week trip to Uganda and Kenya visiting mental health clinics, conducting interviews with patients, co-writing a blog, and assisting with data collection at the annual African Mental Health Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. While studying at Princeton, I pursue my interests in global health and health journalism as the editor for the Neuroscience/Psychology section of Innovation Magazine: the Princeton Journal of Science and Technology. I worked at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting as the Global Health Projects intern. In learning how to be a better journalist, I was able to aid in Pulitzer's efforts to tell the stories of individuals, not only their circumstances."