Alcohol has been a big part of human culture since its creation. Because it is so widely used and abused, there is almost as much folk wisdom surrounding alcohol as there is verifiable information. For instance, one of the most prevalent seems to be Hollywood’s depiction of withdrawal and detox. Television and movies often show characters who “sweat it out” in drunk tanks and then free themselves from addiction. In reality, alcohol withdrawal can cause potentially deadly side effects without medical help and alcoholism is very hard to beat, especially on your own.
There are many more myths surrounding alcohol use that can lead to a dangerous misunderstanding of adult beverages. Here are just a few:
#1 – You Can Have One Alcoholic Drink an Hour and Still Drive Home
Many people who are concerned about moderating alcohol intake have heard of the one-hour rule. The rule states that if you only have one drink per hour, you can drink without getting drunk. The principle is sound. Slowly introduce alcohol into your body at a rate that your liver can handle. However, the problem with this theory is the assumed safe amounts. The average person can process seven grams of alcohol per hour (give or take a few ounces based on your size).
The one-hour principle is based on the average serving sizes for different types of drinks and their respective alcohol content. For instance, the assumption may look like this:
- One 12-ounce bottle of beer is equal to 0.6 ounces of alcohol.
- One shot of liquor is equal to 0.6 ounces of alcohol.
- One five-ounce glass of wine is equal to 0.6 ounces of alcohol.
The problem is that alcoholic beverages aren’t that standardized in real life. Wine can vary a little bit based on the Alcohol By Volume (ABV) and the amount poured and liquor can vary even more with ABVs between 80 to over one hundred percent. Beer has also changed, with new trends in craft brewing, producing beers with anything from 4 percent to 10 percent ABV.
Many drinks require consumption over two hours for your body to process them. Following the one-hour rule is a good way to start thinking about moderation but it doesn’t always apply to actual alcohol consumption. And you should never assume that you can drive after drinking just because you followed those guidelines.
#2 – You Can Sober up Quickly If You Have To
Imagine you’re deep into your fourth drink within the past hour, and all of your friends have decided to hop to the next bar, clear across town. You’d have to drive, and you’re in no condition. No problem, right? All you have to do is drink a cup of coffee and maybe do some aerobics, and you’re good to go. At least, that’s the common misconception. In reality, once your alcohol consumption has exceeded your liver’s ability to filter out toxins, alcohol enters your bloodstream and other organs. No amount of coffee or additives can help speed up the process. The only sure way to sober up is to give yourself time.
Coffee and other forms of caffeine can make the situation worse. While stimulants can make you feel more awake and alert, it doesn’t help with cognitive and physical impairment. Your reaction time, vision, and decision-making skills won’t be at 100% until the effects of the alcohol wear off. Plus, your size and weight don’t have anything to do with the length of time it takes you to sober up. It can affect the drinks it takes you to get to certain blood-alcohol content, but it doesn’t affect the rate at which alcohol leaves your system. After heavy drinking, it can take as long as 12 hours before you return to normal.
#3 – a Nightcap Provides a Good Night’s Sleep
Some people like to unwind before bed with a nightcap, or an alcoholic beverage right before going to bed to get better sleep. However, anyone who’s gone to sleep after a night of drinking knows that sleep doesn’t always come easy. If you’ve tossed and turned after a night of drinking, there is a scientific explanation. When you sleep, you go into a cycle that involves rapid eye movement (REM). REM sleep is the deepest phase in the sleep cycle and it’s thought to be when your body is most energized throughout the night. It may also be responsible for storing memories, learning, and balancing your mood. Alcohol blocks and interrupts your entry into REM sleep, causing restless sleep.
But alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and it makes you feel sleepy if you drink enough. How could it not promote sleep? While it is true that alcohol might help you get to sleep faster, the consequence is less restful sleep. Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes your cells to excrete more water than they normally would. Sleeping after a night of drinking may make you take a few extra trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night then you’re used to.
#4 – a Serving of Liquor Has More Alcohol in it Than Beer Does
This is actually true in the sense that liquor has a higher alcohol content than the same amount of beer. While beer goes through the process of fermentation that produces its alcohol content, hard liquors go through an additional step called distillation that extracts alcohol from the other ingredients. Distilled beverages are more potent because they are not diluted by other non-alcoholic substances.
However, a beer, as it is typically served, is no less alcoholic than whiskey, as it is typically served. If you drink a 12-ounce bottle of beer, you will probably be consuming as much alcohol as if you had taken one shot of whiskey. Liquor is often seen as more dangerous because it allows people to get drunk faster. You can comfortably drink five shots before drinking five glasses of beer. Still, don’t buy into the idea that you can drink more because “it’s only beer.”
#5 – Your Grandpa’s Hangover Cure Is the Answer
Humanity has been trying to “cure” hangovers since we started drinking. From vitamin shots to old family tea recipes, everyone has their own ideas for avoiding the headaches and nausea that come after a night of drinking. However, none of those remedies have ever proven to stop hangovers (unless you count analgesics like ibuprofen). The causes behind the full range of hangover symptoms (including both cognitive and physical symptoms) still aren’t fully understood.
Since alcohol is a diuretic, it causes you to lose more water than normal. After a night of drinking, it’s likely that your body is experiencing dehydration symptoms. Even if you drink water while drinking alcohol, your body will still be hemorrhaging water. Hydrating the morning after can help but, by and large, a hangover is your body’s way of telling you that you overdid it.