There’s no solid evidence that tequila affects the body or brain any differently than other spirits, says science. Tequila makes me want to take my clothes off and go crazy, says everyone else. Ethanol is ethanol is ethanol, so there’s no reason tequila should feel any different than other bottles on the shelf—and yet, the agave-based spirit continues to inspire some of the world’s craziest drinking stories. Here’s why:
Before we delve any further down the tequila-filled rabbit hole, let’s clear up the idea floating around the internet that congeners are to blame for tequila’s particular potency. Congeners are byproducts of distillation that appear in trace amounts in every liquor and, along with other ingredients that survive distillation or are added afterward, they help separate rum from whiskey from vodka. So the congeners in tequila are undoubtedly different than the congeners in other spirits.
But this difference doesn’t account for the tequila effect we know and regret. According to The Atlantic, a number of studies have attempted to measure the impact of different spirits on drinkers of all species—both rats and humans—and found no link between congener content and the resulting buzz. There goes the scapegoat ingredient.
It’s All in Your Mind
That hyped up feeling you get after a round of tequila shots may have less to do with the drink in your glass than what you believe is in there. Tequila is certainly a powerful spirit, but it’s reputation precedes it, causing drinkers to experience the placebo effect. You can dance all night because you think you can dance all night.
A 2003 study in Psychological Science pitted subjects against the intoxicating effect of their own expectations. Scientists told participants they were drinking Vodka Tonics, but the drinks were actually virgin—though the docs did throw in some vodka-soaked limes for good measure. The unwilling teetotalers still had trouble with memory recall like any drinker might. A similar study conducted in 2012 indicated the positive side of the placebo effect, causing subjects to gain confidence from virgin drinks.
Blame It on the Shots
Tales of tequila bedlam often begin in a shot glass. Drinking any liquor in shot form is the express lane to crazy-town, while standard cocktails tend to slow drinkers down as they savor the complex flavors of a good mixed drink. While there are plenty of shots in the sea, thanks to Cancún spring break stereotypes, the agave spirit is the go-to shooter. Plus, the ritual of salt, shot and a lime wedge is legitimately fun, especially when you’re a college-aged drinker already prone to raging.
If you’d like to avoid the tequila effect but don’t want to appear scared of shots, try ordering a long cocktail with an impressive name, like an El Diablo, instead.
Your “Friends” Don’t Help
Rarely do those stories of crazy nights with tequila begin alone. Usually there are accomplices to raucous evenings—“friends” who declare it’s time for another round of shots just as you’ve finished wiping the lime juice of the last shot from your lips. An atmosphere of general conviviality is great for ensuring a fun outing, but it’s also an opportunity for peer pressure to push you into drinking more than you intended.
People Want to Go Crazy on Tequila
The hype around tequila tends to confuse cause with effect. Tequila doesn’t make people go crazy. People go crazy for tequila. When you set out in search of a wild night, tequila shots are a liquid means to a festive end.
And that’s the real lesson behind the tequila madness myth: Yeah, tequila has a reputation for causing ragers and crazy nights, but that’s exactly what we want it to do. Now, who’s got the next round of shots?