Dear friends of HIFA,
Now, I want to share with you a series of "myths" related to alcohol consumption that it is important to take into account when advising our patients, friends and family, and the community in general.
I´ll be waiting for your reactions.
Myths about Alcohol
Myth 1: You really have to admire a person who can hold his/her liquor.
The person who can drink large quantities of alcohol without feeling the "normal" effects may have developed a tolerance to alcohol. Tolerance comes from chronic use of alcohol that results in physical and mental adaptation to its presence in the body. The development of tolerance is shown by an increase in the amount of alcohol required to produce the desired effects and can indicate the onset of physical dependence.
Myth 2: Alcohol can be used as a food supplement.
Alcohol has no nutritional value. It contains no vitamins, minerals or proteins. It does contain a significant number of calories, however. The calories can produce an immediate source of energy which causes food that is normally used for energy production to be changed into fat and stored in the body for later use.
Myth 3 Alcohol warms the body.
The direct action of alcohol causes a drop in the internal body temperature by the following process. The blood vessels are opened (dilated) on the skin surfaces and the blood is cooled by greater exposure to the outer environment. As the cooled blood circulates, the core temperature is lowered gradually, but significantly. This process is continued as long as alcohol is present in the body.
Myth 4: Alcohol is a stimulant drug.
Alcohol is a depressant; it sedates the central nervous system. One of the first areas of the brain to be affected is the cerebral cortex, which controls judgment, self-control and inhibitions. The depression on this part of the brain may result in excitable behavior, as inhibitions are lost.
Myth 5: Hangovers are caused by switching drinks.
Hangovers are caused by the amount of alcohol consumed and the rate at which it is consumed, not by the kind of alcohol consumed. While metabolizing alcohol, the liver cannot perform its normal functions, one of which is keeping the blood sugar at a normal concentration. The results of this state are called hypoglycemia, or lower than normal blood sugar. The change in blood vessels, as mentioned in Myth 3, can cause headaches. Lastly, a hangover is actually a "mini-withdrawal." When the central nervous system is released from the depressed state, the opposite state develops-feeling edgy and irritable. This effect is known as "rebound."
Myth 6 People with Alcohol Use disorders (AUD) drink every day.
There are many types of people with Alcohol Use Disorder: those who drink daily; those who drink on weekends; those who drink in binges which could occur weeks, months or even years apart. The measure of AUD is not when or how often one drinks, but whether or not one can control the drinking once it begins.
Myth 7: You can't have AUD by drinking only beer.
Actually, Americans drink almost ten times as much beer as they do "hard" liquor. Although the content of alcohol in beer is relatively low, this means that one-half the alcohol drunk is consumed as beer. Given these facts, it seems reasonable to say that there are many alcoholics who are only beer drinkers.
Myth 8 Black coffee or a cold shower sobers a drunk.
Black coffee and cold showers only produce wide-awake drunks. Only time will rid the body of alcohol. There is no known way of speeding the metabolic process of eliminating alcohol from the body.
Myth 9 I Am Too Old to Have a Drinking Problem
You may think that drinking problems have to start early in life. In fact, some people develop problems with drinking at a later age.
One reason is that people become more sensitive to alcohol as they get older. Or they may take medicines that make the effects of alcohol stronger. Some older adults may start to drink more because they are bored or feel lonely or depressed.
Myth 10 Drinking is a Good Way to Take the Edge Off My Chronic Pain
People with long-term (chronic) pain sometimes use alcohol to help manage pain. There are several reasons why this may not be a good choice. Alcohol and pain relievers do not mix. Drinking while taking pain relievers may increase your risk of liver problems, stomach bleeding, or other problems. It increases your risk for alcohol problems. Most people need to drink more than a moderate amount to relieve pain. Also, as you develop a tolerance for alcohol, you will need to drink more to get the same pain relief. Drinking at that level increases your risk for alcohol problems. Long-term (chronic) alcohol use can increase pain. If you have withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, you may feel more sensitive to pain. Also, heavy drinking over a long time can actually cause a certain type of nerve pain.
Myth 11 A beer before bed helps you sleep.
Using any kind of alcoholic beverage to help you sleep is always going to backfire, even if in the moment it feels like it’s helping.
“Drinking a beer before bed may get you to fall asleep more quickly,” says Dr. Janesz. “However, it interrupts your deep sleep, and you’ll wake later on feeling not rested and hungover.”
Normally, your body cycles through light and deep phases of sleep. Alcohol inhibits refreshing REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and later on causes “REM rebound,” with nightmares and trouble sleeping.
Repeated alcohol use seriously disturbs sleep and makes it difficult to re-establish a normal sleep pattern. Often, this leads to more drinking or to sedative abuse in the quest for sleep.
Myth 12 All sexes react to alcohol in the same way
Drinking tends to produce higher blood alcohol concentrations in women than men because of a difference in body weight and composition. This leads to a greater degree of intoxication for women.
Alcohol disperses in water, and women have less water in their bodies than men. So, if a woman and man of the same weight consume the same amount of alcohol, her blood alcohol concentration will usually rise more rapidly than his
Myth 13 Drinking reduces stress and anxiety While alcohol can initially make you feel looser and at ease (again, because it’s a depressant), the effects don’t last long. In fact, alcohol may actually cause more anxiety the day after.
So, while you may temporarily feel at ease in the moment, you can feel more stressed the day after.
If you use alcohol as a way to numb your symptoms of anxiety, this can also make the symptoms worse down the line — due to the fact that you’re not learning how to cope with your emotions properly.
Myth 14 Alcohol only hurts your liver
In addition to damaging the liver, drinking can affect other parts of your body as well. This includes your heart, blood pressure, kidneys and mental health. As alcohol is also inflammatory it increases your risk of cancer and other diseases.
Myth 15 Alcohol isn’t as harmful as other drugs.
The brain doesn’t stop growing until about age 25, and drinking can affect how it develops. Plus, alcohol increases your risk for many diseases, such as cancer. It can also cause you to have accidents and get injured.
Myth 16 A person with strong willpower is less likely to develop alcohol use disorder Alcohol use disorder has nothing to do with willpower. You’re not weak or less than if you have this condition.
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that cannot be overcome with willpower alone. However, willpower can be a strong tool for those in recovery from substance use disorder.
Myth 17 Alcohol makes sex better
Even though alcohol can lower your inhibitions, it’s also considered a depressant. This means that alcohol can reduce sex drive and impact a person’s ability to maintain an erection.
There’s also a direct link between excessive drinking and the risk of committing sexual assault. Also, a person who is too intoxicated can’t consent to sexual activity.
Myth 18 Giving minors alcohol under supervision is responsible A common myth around teens and young adults is that it’s more responsible to give minors alcoholic drinks with adult supervision. This myth is based on the idea that kids will drink anyway, so they might as well be in the presence of a responsible adult.
This is false, and research suggests the opposite.
An Australian longitudinal study conducted between 2010 and 2016 concluded that there was no evidence behind the idea that parents supplying underage children with alcohol reduces alcohol-related harms.
A 2015 study involving 561 students found that children who drank alcohol before sixth grade were more likely to abuse alcohol when they reached ninth grade. The same study also notes that most students reported taking their first sip of alcohol at home, usually given to them by a parent.
Research from 2017 also suggests that kids who were allowed to drink alcohol with adults were more likely to engage in risky drinking in their teens.
1. Missouri Department of Mental Health. Myths About Alcohol. https://dmh.mo.gov/alcohol-drug/satop/myths
2. Myths about drinking alcohol. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000856.htm
3. Cleveland Clinic. 10 Myths About Drinking Alcohol You Should Stop Repeating https://health.clevelandclinic.org/myths-about-drinking
4. SAMSHA. Underaged drinking. Myths vs Facts. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/pep23-03-10-004.pdf
5. Busting Common Myths About Alcohol. https://psychcentral.com/addictions/myths-and-facts-about-alcohol
Dr. Eduardo Bianco
Director, Addiction Training Program for Health Professionals (ATHP)
HIFA profile: Eduardo Bianco is a medical doctor and Cardiologist, Certified Tobacco Cessation Expert with a Masters in Prevention and Treatment of Addictive Disorders. Currently, he is Chair of the World Heart Federation Tobacco Expert Group. Dr. Biancos research examines tobacco control and cessation, and he is a prominent member of several organizations that address tobacco control in Latin America. Dr. Bianco has worked for 25 years in Uruguay and Latin America to promote and train in smoking cessation treatment and tobacco control policies. He is also the former Regional Coordinator for the Americas of the Framework Convention Alliance and former Technical Director of the MOH Center for International Cooperation for Tobacco. ebianco AT nextgenu.org