6 Myths About Drinking Debunked

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Last Updated - 05/09/2024

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Updated 05/09/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol creates an illusion of warmth by dilating blood vessels, but actually lowers core body temperature, increasing hypothermia risk.
  • Mixing different types of alcohol does not lead to greater intoxication; total alcohol amount and consumption rate are the key factors.
  • The ‘beer before liquor’ myth is debunked; intoxication is based on alcohol quantity and rate of consumption, not drink order.
  • Drinking coffee does not sober you up; it can mask the perception of intoxication without reducing blood alcohol concentration.
  • Eating before drinking can slow alcohol absorption but does not prevent intoxication; responsible drinking is still necessary.
  • The ‘hair of the dog’ myth is a temporary fix that can lead to worse hangover symptoms and does not cure hangovers.

Alcohol consumption is steeped in myths and misconceptions, often passed down through generations as truth. From the belief that mixing different types of alcohol makes you drunker to the idea that coffee can sober you up, these myths can have serious consequences if believed and followed. This article will debunk six prevalent myths about alcohol, exploring the science behind them and shedding light on the truths that should guide our understanding and consumption of alcohol.

Myth #1: Alcohol Warms You Up

Drinking alcohol is commonly associated with a warm, flushed feeling, but this sensation belies its actual effect on body temperature. Alcohol consumption can lead to a temporary alteration in body temperature regulation, which may pose risks, especially in cold environments. The science behind this phenomenon involves several physiological changes.

When alcohol enters the bloodstream, it causes blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin’s surface. This vasodilation leads to the characteristic redness and feeling of warmth as heat is dissipated from the skin more readily. However, this process can decrease the body’s core temperature.

Myth #2: Mixing Different Types of Alcohol Gets You Drunker

The common myth that mixing different types of alcohol results in greater intoxication has been a topic of social lore for generations. However, scientific research does not support this claim. The prevailing consensus among experts is that it is not the variety of alcohol consumed but rather the total amount of alcohol and the rate of consumption that primarily affect the level of intoxication and potential sickness.

One of the critical aspects when considering the impact of alcohol on the body is the presence of congeners, which are chemical byproducts of the fermentation process. Different alcoholic beverages contain varying levels of congeners, which can contribute to the severity of a hangover but not necessarily to a higher degree of drunkenness.

Furthermore, the belief that the order of consuming different types of alcohol can prevent sickness or hangovers—embodied in sayings like ‘beer before liquor, never been sicker’—is also unsupported by conclusive evidence. It is essential to understand that alcohol is alcohol, regardless of whether it’s in the form of beer, wine, or spirits, and its effects are determined by the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) and the quantity ingested.

Myth #3: ‘Beer Before Liquor…’

The old adage ‘beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear’ has been a longstanding piece of drinking folklore, purported to offer a strategy for avoiding hangovers. 

However, studies reveal that this saying has little basis in fact. The primary factor in intoxication and hangover is the total amount of alcohol consumed rather than the order of consumption. One key point is that alcohol is alcohol, regardless of whether it’s found in beer, wine, or spirits. The percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) in beer is generally lower than in spirits, which may contribute to the misconception that starting with beer is safer.

Experts have pointed out that the presence of food in the stomach can slow the absorption of alcohol, potentially reducing the severity of intoxication and hangover symptoms. This could explain why some believe in the sequence of drinking beer before liquor. It’s not the order of drinks but rather the presence of food and the pacing of alcohol intake that matters most. Gastroenterologists emphasize that drinking on an empty stomach can lead to faster absorption and increased sickness, regardless of whether one starts with beer or liquor.

Myth #4: Coffee Can Sober You Up

The belief that drinking coffee can sober up an individual who has consumed alcohol is a longstanding myth. Despite its popularity, evidence shows that coffee does not have the ability to reduce intoxication levels or speed up the process of becoming sober. The primary reason for this misconception may stem from the stimulating effects of caffeine, which can temporarily make someone feel more alert and awake. However, these effects do not mitigate the actual blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the body.

It is important to understand that alcohol is metabolized by the liver at a constant rate, and no amount of coffee or other caffeinated beverages can accelerate this process. The only factor that can truly sober up a person is time, allowing the body to naturally process and eliminate the alcohol. 

While coffee may help combat the drowsiness associated with alcohol consumption, it does not reverse the cognitive impairment caused by alcohol. In fact, the combination of caffeine’s alertness with alcohol’s impairment may create a false sense of sobriety, potentially leading to risky behaviors such as driving under the influence.

Myth #5: Eating Before Drinking Prevents Intoxication

When alcohol is consumed on an empty stomach, it enters the bloodstream more quickly, leading to a faster and higher peak in blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Ingesting a combination of protein, fats, and carbohydrates before drinking may indeed delay the rate at which alcohol hits the system. While it’s true that eating certain foods can slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream, it’s a misconception to think this can fully ‘prevent’ intoxication.

Studies reveal that approximately 20% of alcohol absorption occurs in the stomach and the rest in the small intestine. When the stomach contains food, it slows the passage of alcohol to the small intestine, thereby delaying the onset of its effects. However, this does not equate to preventing intoxication but rather modulating the pace at which alcohol levels rise in the blood.

Experts in nutritional science caution against ‘lining the stomach’ to indulge in sustained drinking without consequence. The liver, which metabolizes alcohol, operates at a fixed rate. So, although eating may offer some initial moderation of alcohol’s effects, it does not mitigate the need for responsible drinking practices or reduce the eventual overall absorption of alcohol.

Myth #6: ‘Hair of the Dog’ Will Cure a Bad Hangover

The phrase ‘hair of the dog’ suggests that consuming more alcohol can alleviate hangover symptoms. While this belief is quite popular, medical experts widely refute the notion that additional alcohol consumption can cure a hangover. In fact, extending alcohol intake may only offer temporary relief while potentially worsening hangover effects in the long term.

Hangovers are a product of alcohol’s diuretic properties and the toxic by-products of alcohol metabolism. This leads to dehydration, which causes many of the classic hangover symptoms, including fatigue, headache, and nausea. The hangover ‘cure’ of having another drink essentially postpones these symptoms as the body processes the new alcohol. However, this does not eliminate the toxins already present from previous drinking. Instead, it merely delays the inevitable hangover effects.

Unfortunately, the only ways to combat a hangover is rest, rehydrate, and wait for your body naturally process the substance.

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