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Do certain types of alcohol affect you differently?

9Coach logo 9Coach 9/07/2016 Stuart Marsh

© Mark Peterson/Corbis via Getty Images Think back to the wildest night out of your life (if you can remember it, that is). Were you drinking tequila? Vodka? Maybe a complicated cocktail?

Well, whatever you were drinking is likely to be now ingrained in your mind as "the party drink" – but it’s got nothing to do how the beverage is made or even what it tastes like.

As director of the National Drug Research Institute Professor Steve Allsop explains, the reason we're all affected differently by different alcoholic beverages all comes down to who we're hanging out with (and of course the sheer amount that we drink).

"When we drink alcohol it has certain physiological effects that translate into behaviours which depends on the cultural context you're in," Allsop tells Coach.

"Someone could be intoxicated at the pub and having a great time, but when they come home the mood is not the same – it's the cultural cues that largely affect how we feel."

The type of alcohol doesn’t matter

We've all heard the theories: rum makes you angry and violent, tequila turns you into a party animal, gin makes you depressed, vodka makes you spew and beer makes you sleepy.

While these may be true anecdotally, what's actually happening is the specific social situations around these drinks is shaping how you consume them.

For instance, you're unlikely to have a quiet tequila shot by yourself on a Sunday afternoon, so you're unlikely to view it as a "relaxing" drink. Rather, you're much more likely to be drinking tequila at a party, surrounded by friends, having a great time – which leads you to think that it's the tequila, and not the environment, that's making you happy.

"There's nothing physiologically different about the different forms of liquor or alcohol. It more comes down to the socio-cultural context and our own expectations," explains Allsop.

"For example, if your local sports team wins the grand final, you might consume a lot of alcohol and sing merry songs."

"But compare that to a funeral, where you very well may consume the same amount of alcohol afterwards, but your behavior is much different because the social mood and context."

It's all about the sheer volume that you consume

In simple terms, the body can’t tell the difference between a beer and a shot of tequila when it comes to processing a standard unit of alcohol. Both will enter the bloodstream, both will be broken down by the liver, and both will have a similar effect on your brain.

But what is dramatically different is the volume and speed at which you drink them. For instance, you're likely to have tequila as shots, downing a unit (or more) of alcohol in less than five seconds. Compare that to a beer, where you may take up to 15 minutes to drink the same equivalent amount of alcohol.

This means you're likely to get drunker quicker on certain types of alcohol – but this is because of the volume and speed, not the flavouring or chemistry behind it.

As Allsop explains, the more you drink, the more you can’t really predict how you're going to behave – and it's totally irrelevant to what you choose as your poison.

"Obviously this depends on the amount of alcohol you drink. The more you drink, the more your judgement, reactions and even hearing is impaired – which makes your behavior more erratic," says Allsop.

"When people talk about mixing drinks as the reason they feel terrible the next morning, they're failing to remember the sheer volume they drunk – there's no magic chemistry that happens when you mix different beverages."

The type of drink may affect your hangover, but not your behavior

So we know that there's little difference between specific drinks, and that your emotional response to alcohol depends on who you're drinking with, the speed of your drinking, and the reason for drinking.

But why then, do we wake up with horrific hangovers from certain types of drinks, and just mild headaches from others?

As Allsop explains, it could be down to the colour of your drink, not the taste.

"Interestingly, some people can have worse hangovers with certain beverages thanks to something called congeners. Congeners are alcohol byproducts which provide flavour," says Allsop.

"Darker beverages like red wine, dark beers and dark spirits have more congeners, which may makesome people feel worse the next day."

Of course this may have you reaching for the vodka and tonics – but Allsop counters with the age-old advice: no matter what you're drinking, have too many and you'll definitely wake up with a pounding head.

"But of course it all depends on the amount of alcohol you drink – drink too much and you can’t escape a hangover."

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