Some time-honored drinking rules are nothing more than fables.
Believing these toddy tales can make you look like a fool (and feel like one, too). Here, eight myths, distortions, and outright lies you’ve been told—and likely told to others—for many years.
Myth #1: You can have one drink per hour and still be sober enough to drive.
Reality: Your body typically needs more than an hour to clear out the alcohol you drink, and piling drinks on top of one another can leave you quite intoxicated.
The human body metabolizes alcohol at a constant rate: about 20 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) per hour. There is little you can do to slow that down or speed it up.
One unit of alcohol has about eight grams of pure alcohol. A glass of beer, for example, has about two units (16 grams) of alcohol in each serving.
At that rate, the body can process:
- a shot of liquor (1 unit) in 1 hour
- a typical beer or hard cider (2 units) in 2 hours
- an average-size glass of wine (2 units) in 2 hours
- an oversized glass of wine (3 units) in 3 hours
- a high-gravity beer (3 units) in 3 hours
Even if you pace yourself and only drink one beverage an hour, your body doesn’t have time to clear the alcohol from your first drink before you start your next. You could very easily be drunk—and over the legal limit. Hand your keys to someone sober, or call an Uber.
Myth #2: Liquor before beer, in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker.
Reality: It’s not the type that matters, but the quantity.
The average college freshman can likely cite the famous liquor warning: “Liquor before beer, in the clear. Beer before liquor, never been sicker.”
But it’s not the type, or the order, of alcohol but how much you drink that really impacts whether you’ve “never been sicker.”
The New York Times wrote that sometimes, carbonation from beer and sparkling wines can irritate your stomach’s lining, increasing the rate of alcohol absorption. If you switch to liquor, with its higher percentage of alcohol, after downing a few beers, you might (might, we emphasize) get intoxicated more quickly.
Still, the order or type of alcohol you drink isn’t the most important factor; it’s how much you drink—and if you’re drinking on an empty stomach.
Myth #3: Darker drinks are healthier.
Reality: Red wine and dark liquors, like bourbon and whiskey, may have more chemicals that are beneficial to the body, but they also contain more toxic chemicals that make a hangover worse.
Dark beers do have more flavonoids than light beer, which have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Red wine has more polyphenols than white; these substances act like antioxidants in your blood, helping protect you against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other possible illnesses.
Darker liquids, however, also have higher amounts of congeners, toxic chemicals that are created during the fermentation process. They aren’t deadly, but they can make your hangover worse—so yeah, you may feel like death.
In fact, one study compared reported hangover symptoms in people who drank equal amounts of dark bourbon and vodka. The participants who drank bourbon reported worse hangover symptoms.
Myth #4: Coffee can sober you up quickly.
Reality: Caffeine—whether from coffee or energy drinks—does absolutely nothing to help your body process alcohol more quickly.
What’s worse, caffeinated drinks can make feel more alert; it may even trick your brain a bit, making it believe you’re more sober than you are. But, bad news, you’re still drunk. That means while you may be more awake and aware, your incapacitated state has not changed.
Caffeine can help combat the fatigue of a hangover—the next day. When you’re feeling groggy and wee bit beaten up because of all those beers you had, you can brew up a few cups of coffee for a quick boost of energy.
Myth #5: Once you’ve “broken the seal,” you won’t stop peeing.
Reality: Alcohol interferes with hormones in your body that conserve water and slow down urine production. When you drink, your body cannot hang on to those fluids, so you have to pee more often—no matter how long you hold it.
Arginine vasopressin is an antidiuretic hormone (ADH) that works to conserve the amount of water in your body. In short, it forces your body to reabsorb water from your urine, leaving you more hydrated and producing more concentrated urine. A win-win for your body’s health.
When you drink, however, alcohol suppresses that hormone. ADH cannot get through your nervous system and to your kidneys. That means your kidneys process your liquid waste, your bladder fills quickly, and you’ve got to go—and more often than when you’re sober.
It doesn’t matter how long you hold your first bathroom stop after you start drinking. It does actually take some time for the alcohol to tamp down the ADH. You may be able to get a few drinks under your belt before you feel the urge. Resist the temptation to hold it, however. Alcohol can be a bladder irritant, so your safest (and healthiest) option is to go as soon as you feel you need to—and go as often as you feel you need to.
Myth #6: Darker beers have a higher alcohol content than lighter ones.
Reality: The color of the beer makes no difference in the ABV.
Light beers often wear the badge of honor for being lighter in color, flavor, and even calories, but the truth is, the hue of your brew isn’t really a truth teller. The color is a result of the grains that are used to make it, and plenty of beers are dark and have a lower alcohol content than some paler ales.
Myth #7: You can throw up to sober up.
Reality: Ew. No.
Your body absorbs the alcohol from your drinks pretty quickly. Unless you make yourself sick within minutes of downing a beverage, your body is already wicking that booze right into your blood. If you make yourself throw up the moment you start to feel sick, thinking you’ll save yourself from greater ill feelings, you won’t. The best way to avoid illness? Pace yourself, and don’t overdrink.
However, your blood alcohol content (BAC) may be very different from another person’s after one drink, and your BAC determines how in control of your faculties you are.
BAC is a measure of how much alcohol is in your blood in relation to the amount of water that is in your blood. The more alcohol you drink, the higher your BAC. The higher your BAC, the greater your level of impairment.
Myth #8: Eating before you fall to sleep will prevent a hangover.
Reality: As much as we support a Waffle House stopover on your way home, you’re probably better off just staying in the Uber and going home.
Your body has already absorbed the alcohol from all your drinks, and eating food after you drink won’t do much to impact your level of intoxication. What it might do? Give you acid reflux, make you sick to your stomach, or make you vomit.
Drinking on an empty stomach can lead to faster—and worse—intoxication, so it’s better to eat your hash browns smothered and covered before you start pouring back your booze. And, of course, pace yourself.
Myth #9: Alcohol kills brain cells.
Reality: Your mother probably had the best of intentions when she cited this time and time again to deter you from drinking, but it’s just not true.
Drinking does impair how well your brain functions, so you may feel like you’ve killed off a few cells—or even an entire section—after a few rounds, but alcohol causes no permanent damage to your brain.
Chronic alcohol consumption and abuse can, however, damage your brain and other parts of your body. Alcoholism can lead to chronic health issues, including poor nutrition, dehydration, and neurological problems. This may ultimately lead to cognitive impairment and damage.
If you have trouble with stopping yourself from drinking alcohol or frequently drink too much, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This 24-hour confidential service can help you you get assistance and support.