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5 Common Alcohol Myths That Helped Fuel My Addiction

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Being a college student in a large city, alcohol is widely available to even those below the legal drinking age. After turning 21, alcohol became universally accessible to me. All of these were factors in the development of my unhealthy relationship with alcohol. (Don’t confuse recognizing factors with me blaming my decisions on other people or circumstances; I have accepted that I am responsible for my own choices.)

However, when coming to college, and even before, I was exposed to many myths about alcohol that made it seem like a much less dangerous substance than it actually is. Buying into these myths can lead to the development of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. While it is not guaranteed to happen, truly understanding alcohol is a good preventative measure in fighting a potential addiction. In the hopes of enlightening some people, I am going to break down a few popular myths about alcohol.

1. Eating before drinking will make you less drunk.

This myth is particularly dangerous because it can make people feel like they can drink more than is safe. Eating before drinking is a good idea, but it will not stop you from getting drunk. Food in your stomach will simply delay when your body absorbs the alcohol into the bloodstream, but it will still have the same effects, just later than if you had an empty stomach. The myth is based on the idea that the food in your stomach will absorb the alcohol and your body ultimately won’t process it and make you drunk. On the surface, this may seem logical, but when you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense either. Yes, the food will absorb the alcohol, but when your body breaks down the food, it will absorb the alcohol after digesting the food. Eating before drinking is a good idea, but don’t think you can drink more safely because of it.

2. “Beer before liquor, you’ve never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.”

This catchy and easy-to-remember phrase is perhaps one of the most common pieces of “advice” I was given when going to college and when I turned 21. Unfortunately, it is also untrue. If you really think about this phrase, it really doesn’t make any sense either. Why would the order of the alcohol matter? The alcohol you find in beer is the same alcohol you find in liquor — some drinks will just have less of it. There are a few reasons you get sick from alcohol, and it has nothing to do with the order of drinks. Here’s a fun example of this idea. Let’s say I have an empty bucket, some white paint, and some red paint. I want to pour the paints in the bucket to make pink. No matter the order of the paint I pour in, whether I put the white in first or vice versa, I’ll still end up with the same color. The only factor in determining the end result is how much I put in.

3. [Insert thing here] will help sober you up.

Unless you insert “time,” it’s wrong. Common misunderstandings are that a cup of coffee, a cold shower or fresh air will help sober a person up faster. Again, utilizing the amazing powers of common sense, this myth doesn’t make any sense. Coffee, water on your skin or fresh air in your lungs has nothing to do with the way your body processes alcohol. Drinking water has also been a popular idea of sobering someone up. While untrue, this is, in fact, helpful for ensuring your body does not dehydrate and will help prevent hangovers.

4. Alcohol is alcohol so everyone responds the same way to it.

Remember in myth two, when I said the alcohol in beer is the same as in liquor? That’s true, but that doesn’t mean everyone will respond the same way to it. While it may not be verbalized often, it is a subconscious misconception too many people have that no matter who you are, your body will react to alcohol the same way as everyone else. That’s why everyone will get practically the same advice about drinking. Many factors come into play in determining how your body will respond to alcohol, such as your weight, medications you take, your genetics and even the time of day it is. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that because your bar buddy can drink six beers and still walk that it will be the same for you.

5. I can drive if I drink; I should just chew gum, brush my teeth, etc.

This one may sound weird but stay with me. A lot of people think that if they chew gum, brush their teeth, use mouth wash, or something else to cover up the smell of their breath, they can drink and won’t be caught drinking and driving. The idea is that they have successfully covered up the smell of alcohol from their breath, and so any breathalyzer test from law enforcement will come up negative. There are a few problems here. First off, if a law enforcement officer does pull you over, they will not just immediately give you a breathalyzer test. They will also do a sobriety test to see if you are capable of driving safely, and if you’ve had a few too many, you won’t pass this step. The other problem is that the breathalyzer test is not testing your bad breath. The alcohol in your bloodstream will flow through your lungs and will ultimately evaporate into your breath. Whenever you exhale, your lungs will expel the evaporated alcohol in your breath, and no amount of mouth wash, toothpaste or bubble gum will cover that up.

These are clearly not the only myths about alcohol, but I hope you’ve learned something here and, ultimately, will be conscious about your relationship about alcohol and why you drink. Your relationship with alcohol (or any substance) is not purely determined by how much you consume it, but also why you feel the need to use it.

Photo by Francisco Gonzalez on Unsplash

Originally published: January 17, 2020
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