Phrases like “tequila makes me slutty,” “red wine really chills me out” or “gin makes me sob uncontrollably” are frequently uttered and immediately understood by drinkers around the world, but it turns out, there’s a surprising lack of science behind these alcohol stereotypes.
Apparently, you’re just as likely to find yourself crying on the floor if you have cosmos as you are if you opt for gin and tonics. The active ingredient in alcohol — aka the thing that gets you drunk — is ethanol, and it does the same thing every time, regardless of what form it’s in. Booze is booze, basically, so you should probably stop blaming your unfortunate hookup decisions on tequila.
OK, so obviously if you’re slamming back three shots in 20 minutes, you’ll get significantly more sloshed than if you’re sipping three watered down well drinks over the course of a couple hours. That has to do with the relative concentration of alcohol you’re putting into your body and how quickly it’s being absorbed into your system. There’s also the issue of what you’re mixing it with (caffeine and carbonation can create a quicker buzz, while sugar often leads to a gnarly hangover), what you’ve had to eat that day and what else you’re taking that night.
But that’s all pretty much common knowledge, and doesn’t really explain why, in the minds of many, certain spirits result in nights that are rowdier, sexier, sadder, weirder, more dangerous, more naked etc. than others.
Experts say it has to do with the power of persuasion. If we’re told something is going to make us behave a certain way, then it’s easy to make ourselves act on that, without really questioning why. Pharmacologist Paul Clayton, in a 2014 interview with the Guardian, calls this phenomenon a “cultural hangover.”
There are several studies that support this claim, including one in which participants were falsely told they were drinking vodka and were then swayed into believing things that didn’t happen. There’s also that episode of Freaks and Geeks where Sam Weir gets all of Lindsay’s friends “drunk” on fake beer.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of it has to do with the people you’re with and the setting in which you’ve chosen to imbibe. If you’re out at a club pounding shots with the girls, you’ve probably already made up your mind that tonight is going to be a certain kind of night — one in which wild shit is gonna go down. And if you’re at home watching Sex and the City reruns with a bottle of red, well, you’ve probably consciously chosen to have a very different kind of evening.
There’s also some evidence that congeners, chemicals that appear during fermentation and are typically present more in darker alcohols, may have some effect on how the alcohol makes you behave, but there has been surprisingly little research on it.
For now, rejoice in the fact that the only thing stopping you from indulging in a gin cocktail (or whatever it is you’ve convinced yourself you can’t handle) without losing your shit is mental gymnastics.
But if you still want to blame the embarrassing thing you did last night on tequila, well, cheers to that.