5 Myths About Alcohol: Separating Fact From Fiction

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There are many rumors and myths about alcohol out there, including how much is safe, what a problem drinker looks like, and how to sober up. In a video for Ria Health, Claudia Christian of the C Three Foundation lays out five of the most common alcohol myths, and the real facts you need to know about drinking.

#1: It’s Okay To Get Drunk Once in a While

In truth, any amount of binge drinking (drinking to get drunk) is a threat to your safety and health. Intoxicated people are more likely to injure themselves or get into accidents. They’re also more likely to experience or participate in violent acts, from fist-fights to sexual assault and homicide. It’s also well known that drinking and getting behind the wheel has deadly consequences.

Any amount of binge drinking is not safe, period.

Aside from physical altercations, a single heavy night of drinking can strain or even injure your internal organs—including your stomach, liver, and kidneys. Even occasional binge drinking can increase your chances of long-term illnesses from alcohol, and can also raise your likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder further down the line.

The list continues: Getting drunk can make you more likely to engage in unsafe sex, resulting in pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. And if you are expecting a baby, alcohol use can damage your child’s development, or even increase chances of stillbirth. If you have trouble controlling your drinking once you stop, binging may even send you to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

The damage doesn’t stop there, but the point is clear: It’s never actually safe to get drunk. The threshold for binge drinking is four or more drinks for a woman, or five or more for a man, within two hours. If you enjoy drinks with friends, it’s always risky to go past these limits.

#2: Drinking in Moderation Is Always Safe

To begin with, some people should never drink any alcohol whatsoever. If you’re pregnant, taking certain medications, recovering from a stroke, dealing with heart disease, or have any kind of liver damage, you should avoid alcohol completely.

But even people with a clean bill of health, or who are not carrying a child, should think twice before having a drink. While many studies have suggested that a moderate amount of alcohol has health benefits, much of that research has been called into question. In fact, a massive study on the global burden of disease, covering 195 countries over more than 25 years, recently determined that there is no safe amount of alcohol.

This study looked at alcohol consumption and its effect on human beings in 195 countries from 1990 to 2016. … The conclusion was that no amount of alcohol is safe.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a glass of wine with dinner if you choose to. But it does mean that you shouldn’t assume it’s benefiting your health, or that it’s guaranteed to be safe. Most of the health benefits of red wine can be gained from other food sources, while alcohol, no matter the situation, is toxic to your body.

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#3: Drinking Wine or Beer Will Not Make Me as Drunk as Hard Liquor

While it’s tempting to view some drinks as being safer than others, alcohol is alcohol. The key is in how you measure it. The US definition of a “standard drink” is:

  • One 12 oz. glass of beer (at 5 percent alcohol)
  • One 5 oz. glass of wine (at 12 percent alcohol)
  • One 1.5 oz. shot of liquor (at 40 percent alcohol)

Any of these drinks will get you equally drunk. While it’s true that you might be able to drink liquor faster than beer, what really matters is how much actual alcohol is in your system, not the type of beverage.

All types of alcoholic drinks and beverages have the same active ingredient, and all standard drinks contain the same amount of alcohol.

For example, imagine two friends go to a bar; one has six beers, while the other has six vodka tonics. It turns out that the bartender is a light pourer, and each vodka drink has less than a full shot in it. Meanwhile, the person drinking beer ordered several IPAs with a higher alcohol concentration than usual. The friend who drank beer would be more drunk than the one who drank vodka, despite consuming a “lighter beverage.”

While a person may prefer one type of drink over another, once alcohol reaches your bloodstream there’s no difference.

#4: If You Can “Hold Your Liquor,” You Don’t Have a Drinking Problem

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Actually, the exact opposite might be true. Being able to “hold your liquor” generally means you have a higher alcohol tolerance, which can be a sign that you’re drinking more.

Of course, it’s complex. Alcohol tolerance may be partially genetic, so being less sensitive to alcohol doesn’t necessarily make you an alcoholic either. And if you’re drinking a moderate amount, a higher tolerance might make you less likely to do something silly or embarrassing, causing fewer literal “problems.”

If you can hold your liquor, that might indicate that you’ve developed a tolerance to alcohol, which might indicate that you’re drinking too much.

But this apparent “strength” can actually be a weakness as well. Being able to drink more may also encourage you to do so, making you more likely to develop an unhealthy habit. And aside from genetic differences, higher alcohol tolerance is a common sign that someone is developing alcohol dependence. A person may be able to “drink others under the table” precisely because they actually drink more often. And this means they are more likely to have a problem—not less.

#5: I Can Sober Up With a Cup of Coffee

Unfortunately, there’s only one thing that can sober you up: Time.

Sure, coffee has caffeine in it, and caffeine makes you more alert. But, as Claudia Christian puts it, “you’re only going to be a more alert drunk person.” You aren’t going to make better decisions, your coordination is not going to improve, and you certainly aren’t safe to get behind the wheel of a car.

Coffee has caffeine in it. Caffeine will make you feel more “alert.” But you’re only going to be a more alert drunk person.

Beverages containing both caffeine and alcohol have been popular for some time, precisely because they allow a person to get intoxicated without feeling drowsy. But the consequences of this often include riskier behavior, greater chances of injury, and higher odds of acting on a poor impulse. For exactly this reason, several beverages that mix energy drinks with alcohol have been taken off the market.

So, in summary, coffee cannot actually sober a person up. If you are intoxicated, the only thing you can really do is hydrate yourself and wait it out.

The Takeaway: The Less Alcohol You Drink, the Better

Ultimately, despite the many alcohol myths out there, there really is no “safe” level of drinking. Getting drunk is inherently dangerous, all types of alcohol get you equally intoxicated, caffeine can’t sober you up, and higher tolerance may indicate alcohol dependence.

If you or someone you care about is struggling to control their alcohol consumption, it’s important to get help for the problem. Ria Health offers support to help people quit or cut back on drinking, all from a smartphone app. Choose moderation or abstinence, get access to medication and coaching, and do the whole thing from the comfort of home. It’s never been easier to get the care you need. Get in touch with a member of our team today.

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Written By:
Ria Health Team
Ria Health’s editorial team is a group of experienced copywriters, researchers, and healthcare professionals dedicated to removing stigma and improving public knowledge around alcohol use disorder. Articles written by the “Ria Team” are collaborative works completed by several members of our writing team, fact-checked and edited to a high standard of empathy and accuracy.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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