8 Myths About Alcohol
One of the big problems with alcohol is that it is often seen as a safe, socially acceptable substance to consume. There is a world of misconception around alcohol, which may be part of why more people die each year from alcohol-related causes than from all other drugs combined.
One of the first steps towards properly educating people about the dangers of alcohol begins with dispelling some of the myths surrounding the substance.
The Myths, the Science and the Truth
In a country where a significant percentage of the population consumes alcohol (the NIAAA estimates about 55% of adults drink alcohol regularly), it’s virtually impossible to grow up in the U.S. and not hear myths about alcohol. Following are eight myths about alcohol and the true facts to dispel those myths:
Myth #1: Occasional binge drinking is okay.
Binge drinking is always harmful, no matter what. The NIAAA defines binge drinking as “A pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 percent – or 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter – or higher. For a typical adult, this pattern corresponds to consuming 5 or more drinks (male), or 4 or more drinks (female), in about 2 hours.” This level of drinking is absolutely excessive and harmful. Binge drinking causes damage to the cardiovascular system and the liver. Such drinking hampers one’s judgment and it can lead to unintentional injuries like car crashes, falls, and burns. It can result in poor sexual decisions, violence, even trouble with the law. Binge drinking is never okay.
Myth #2: People don’t drink as much when they get older.
This is untrue. Older people are just as likely to drink alcohol. Research indicates that people become more sensitive to alcohol as they age. Furthermore, other factors like loneliness, depression, chronic pain, and boredom become more likely as one ages, putting this demographic at risk for alcohol misuse.
Myth #3: “I do not have a problem because I can hold my liquor.”
Just the concept of “holding one’s liquor” is flawed because it suggests some people can “tolerate” alcohol. That is a misconception because it suggests some people have a biological defense against the effects of alcohol. This is not the case. When it appears that someone’s behavior, mood, or senses are not being affected by alcohol, that does not mean the substance isn’t still affecting them in other ways, biologically. It might take a larger person several drinks to be aware of “feeling something” from the alcohol. But as soon as they have that first drink, the alcohol begins causing damage to their internal systems.
Myth #4: “I only drink on the weekends. It’s not a problem.”
An alcohol misuse problem does not have to be a daily occurrence. Binge drinking does not have to happen every day for it to constitute alcohol misuse. Just one instance of binge drinking is an instance of misusing alcohol. If a person consumes more than two drinks per day (for a man) or more than one drink per day (for a woman), that constitutes drinking too much. Furthermore, if someone drinks on any day and consumes more than four drinks (for a man) or more than three drinks (for a woman), that constitutes heavy drinking and cannot be justified by saving such drinking habits for “Only on the weekend.”
Myth #5: Increased tolerance to alcohol helps protect your body from any harm from drinking.
As one drinks alcohol over time, one’s body will begin to build up a tolerance to the substance. Alcohol is a foreign substance to the human body. Unlike food or water, humans do not need alcohol to survive, so the body’s natural response to the foreign liquid is to build up a tolerance of it, to prevent the substance from altering one’s behavior, mind, and physiological function, as alcohol does. However, increased tolerance to alcohol does not protect the individual from the poisonous effects that excessive drinking has on the body.
Myth #6: Alcohol has legitimate uses in pain management.
There is no doubt that alcohol can have a pain-relieving effect (and the NIAAA estimates that 28% of chronic pain patients use alcohol for this purpose). However, alcohol is not a medically accepted form of pain relief, and drinking to reduce pain bears significant health risks. Primarily, one must drink more alcohol than is recommended to experience an analgesic effect. This means drinking to excess to relieve pain, essentially trading one problem for another. Furthermore, withdrawal from alcohol use often increases pain sensibility. There are healthy ways to treat pain, but alcohol consumption is not one of them.
Myth #7: Beer is less intoxicating than other alcoholic beverages, meaning you can drink more of it.
This is not true, as a standard drink of alcohol is the same, regardless of the type of alcohol that drink is consumed in. According to the NIAAA, “A standard drink is any drink that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol (about 0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons).” The NIAAA also offers information on the volume of different types of alcohol one has to consume to drink this amount of pure alcohol. A single 12 oz. serving of beer will constitute a standard drink. According to the data, men should not drink more than 1 – 2 drinks per day, and women should not have more than 1 drink per day. (But even with that being said, it’s important to note that any amount of alcohol consumption carries risk and should be avoided).
Myth #8: Cold showers and hot coffee help sober you up.
While cold showers and hot coffee may give the appearance of alertness, there is no remedy for drunkenness except for the passage of time. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Coffee, fresh air, cold showers or eating will not help to remove the alcohol or other drug combination from the circulatory system. Time is the only medically-proven method to remove alcohol or other drug combinations from the circulatory system. It takes about an hour for the body to get rid of one normal drink from the circulatory system. Therefore, if someone has had four normal drinks, the person should wait four hours or more before driving.” Only by giving the body time to process and remove alcohol can one recover from the effects of the substance.
Getting Help for an Alcohol Problem
Alcohol misuse is a serious health crisis that affects the mind, body, and soul. It’s important to understand what alcohol misuse and alcohol addiction are and know that alcohol myths do not hold up under inspection. If you know someone who is drinking alcohol and who cannot stop or who drinks too much alcohol, please get them entered into a drug and alcohol treatment center as soon as possible. Alcohol addiction is a life-threatening crisis.