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16 Common Misconceptions about Alcohol

Sometimes our decisions are guided by strange beliefs that all too often turn out to be fables we assumed to be true. Following are 16 common misconceptions about alcohol and alcohol consumption, and the reality behind these misconceptions.

Misconception #1: Beer and wine are less intoxicating than mixed drinks.
Reality: A standard glass of wine, bottle of beer, or shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. Thus, one 12-ounce can of beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine, or one normal mixed drink or cocktail are all equally intoxicating, and give the same blood alcohol content (BAC) reading on a breathalyzer.

Misconception #2: Drinking coffee is a quick way to sober up.
Reality: Alcohol dissipates from the body at a rate of about .015% of BAC per hour, and drinking coffee doesn’t alter that rate. Even if you drink coffee, you still need a full hour to expel the alcohol in your system if your BAC is .015%. Gender, age, and weight do not affect this rate – only time.

Misconception #3: Drinking alcohol packs on the pounds.
Reality: While alcohol has caloric value, research has shown that alcohol consumption does not result in significant weight gain in men and is even associated with modest weight loss in women. In fact, a study by the Journal of Nutrition found that beer drinkers, on average, had no more body fat than non-drinkers. Lifestyle and genetics are more likely to cause weight gain.

Misconception #4: Alcohol consumption by pregnant women causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Reality: Extensive medical research studying hundreds of thousands of women around the world has not proven that light drinking by expectant mothers causes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which results in mental and physical defects. Nevertheless, the Surgeon General of the United States recommends that expectant mothers play it safe by abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy. 

Misconception #5: Compared with the rest of the world, the United States is a heavy-drinking country.
Reality: In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the top 10 alcohol-consuming countries in the world were all in Europe, and 9 out of top 10 were located in Eastern Europe. The U.S. wasn’t close to the top, ranking 57th on the WHO list. 

Misconception #6: Drinkers who can tolerate large quantities of alcohol are lucky.
Reality: People who have a high tolerance for alcohol and can drink heavily without appearing to become intoxicated may not be as fortunate as you think. High tolerance of alcohol often indicates the onset of, or an existing dependency on alcohol.

Misconception #7: A big meal before drinking helps you stay sober.
Reality: A full stomach doesn’t prevent the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream; it just slows the process down. Eat, drink, and be merry, but watch your BAC!

Misconception #8: Alcohol is the root cause of alcoholism.
Reality: The Florida Bureau of Alcoholic Rehabilitation (FBAR) reports that, "Alcohol no more causes alcoholism than sugar causes diabetes." FBAR further notes that if alcohol caused alcoholism, all drinkers would be alcoholics. In reality, only a small percentage of people who consume alcohol qualify as alcohol dependent. Alcoholics Anonymous posits that people are often born with a predisposition toward alcohol dependency. Obviously, alcoholism can’t exist without alcohol consumption, but the origins of alcohol dependency may be more complicated than simply taking a drink.

Misconception #9: Prohibiting alcohol reduces alcoholism.
Reality: Restricting the availability of alcohol to reduce alcoholism has not proven a successful strategy, as tested in the U.S. during Prohibition and in other countries. Prohibition of alcohol can result in serious unintended consequences, too, including poisoning from contaminated illegal alcohol, abuse of other substances, higher crime rates, economic impact resulting from loss of tax revenues, and myriad social ills.  

Misconception #10: Alcohol kills brain cells.
Reality: You may feel a little foolish the morning after you consumed a bit too much alcohol, but not because the alcohol killed your brain cells. In fact, alcohol has no effect on the lifecycle of brain cells. In addition, researchers have found that red wine actually helps the brain and can forestall or prevent dementia in old age.

You may feel a little foolish the morning after you consumed a bit too much alcohol, but not because the alcohol killed your brain cells. In fact, alcohol has no effect on the lifecycle of brain cells

Misconception #11: Sulfites in wine make my head hurt. 
Reality: Sulfites occur naturally in all wines, including wines with labels that read, “No Sulfites,” and are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process. Sulfites may also be added to thwart unwanted microorganisms, and protect the color and delicate flavors of wine. Unlike European countries, the U.S. government requires winemakers to print sulfite notices on bottles because sulfites can trigger allergic reactions in some, notably in asthmatics. More likely sources of your wine headache may be tannins or histamines that also occur naturally in wines. However, there is ongoing debate in the scientific community regarding the cause of wine headaches.

Misconception #12: Alcohol warms me up.
Reality: Well, kind of. If you’re already warm and cozy, alcohol will dilate the blood vessels in your skin and have a warming effect. In a cold environment, however, the effect is just the opposite. To preserve heat, your body reduces the blood supply to your skin and lowers your body temperature. In extremely cold conditions, excessive alcohol consumption can even cause hypothermia. Brrr…

Misconception #13: You can beat a breathalyzer test by sucking on a penny.
Reality:  Fooling a breathalyzer should be so easy – and cheap! Unfortunately, placing a copper penny under your tongue does not affect breathalyzer results. Nor do other supposed elixirs, such as breath mints, herbal formulas, charcoal pills, and – just maybe – snake oil. Better to be sensible – and safe.

Placing a copper penny under your tongue does not affect breathalyzer results. Nor do other supposed elixirs, such as breath mints, herbal formulas, charcoal pills.

Misconception #14: Take an aspirin before or during drinking to reduce or prevent a hangover.
Reality: Unfortunately, aspirin doesn’t prevent hangovers. In fact, aspirin actually increases the speed and degree of alcohol intoxication. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, taking aspirin before drinking alcohol actually increases your BAC by 26% and keeps the alcohol in your system longer.

Misconception #15: Dark beer has higher alcohol content than light beer.
Reality: The color of a beer is not an accurate indicator of the amount of alcohol in a beer. Light and dark beers can be equally high in alcohol content.

Misconception #16: Alcohol helps you sleep.
Reality: Not exactly. If you don’t imbibe very often, your sleep may be fitful after you consume alcohol. People who are dependent on alcohol, however, may have trouble sleeping without it. 

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