Alcohol Facts and Myths
Last Updated: 10th November 2022 · Written by Kate Young
Alcohol has many effects on the body, with various pitfalls and even a few purported benefits. Once it enters your system, it starts working on multiple organs. The heart, liver, brain are just a few. If you’re frequently drinking too much, the organs affected can begin to develop long-term health problems.
Many of us are blissfully unaware of how alcohol actually affects our bodies. So we’re going to fill you in on 13 facts (and a few myths) on this celebratory substance enjoyed in many countries around the world.
13 Alcohol Facts
- Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it slows down brain activity. However, it first behaves like a stimulant in small amounts, which is why some people become more sociable or upbeat to start with.
- Alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that’s associated with anticipation, pleasure and satisfaction.
- Alcohol is one of the most misused substances (both legal and illegal) with roughly 1 in 8 Americans meeting the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder.
- According to a study in 2015, light-eyed Americans (of European descent) are more likely to misuse alcohol than dark-eyed Americans of European descent.
- Research has indicated that rates of alcohol use and high-risk use increased between 2001 and 2013, despite the popularity increase in health.
- Teens who started drinking before the age of 15 are more likely to develop a dependence on alcohol later in life.
- A study that explored drinking around Italian families found that young Italians who drank at family meals while growing up were much less likely to develop unhealthy drinking habits in later life.
- People who have more muscle mass and less body fat are more tolerant of alcohol, due to muscle absorbing alcohol faster than fat.
- Long-term drinking is more likely to result in adverse health consequences for women than men, even if women drink less for a shorter period.
- Alcohol-related deaths are the third leading cause of preventable deaths in America. Roughly 88,000 people die each year in the States from alcohol-related causes.
- Alcohol consumption significantly increases the risk of dementia.
- Drinking red wine (in moderation) is considered good for the heart. It contains resveratrol, a substance that helps lower cholesterol, stop blood clots and even prevent blood vessel damage.
- While red wine in moderation can be beneficial, dark drinks are more likely to cause a hangover than clear beverages. Opting for vodka over whiskey might be a good idea if you don’t want to write off the following day.
That’s a lot of facts about alcohol. But there are a lot of myths surrounding the substance as well. Here are a few myths that many of us still believe;
Top 5 Myths
1. “It’s OK to get drunk every now and then.”
Drinking enough to get heavily drunk is considered binge drinking, which is associated with severe health problems such as unintentional injuries, cancer, and heart disease. Regardless of how infrequently you do it, if you have 4 to 5 (or more) drinks in a single sitting, you’re putting your health at risk.
2. “Wine or beer won’t make you as drunk as hard liquor.”
All alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, in roughly the same amounts. This is why certain drinks are sold as pints (beer, lager and cider), glasses (wine) and shots (spirits). While spirits are easier to drink in excess, due to having a smaller volume, each serving will have roughly the same effect on your body.
3. “It’s always safe in moderation.”
Moderate consumption of some alcoholic drinks can have health benefits, but this doesn’t equate it to being ‘risk-free’. There are many groups of people for whom the risks can vastly outweigh potential benefits. Such as those who;
- are pregnant or trying to get pregnant
- are taking prescribed anti-depressants or other psychoactive substances.
- have AUD, alcohol dependence, or a family history of either
- have heart failure or a weak heart
- have liver or pancreatic disease
- have previously had a stroke, heart failure or a weak heart.
- plan to drive or operate machinery
- take other prescription medications that interact with alcohol
4. “Drinking is only a problem for those who can’t hold their liquor.”
It can actually be a good sign if you can’t hold your alcohol. Those that no longer feel the effects of alcohol are probably developing a tolerance to it, which can mean they’re at higher risk of developing a dependency.
5. “You can sober up quickly with a cup of coffee.”
This may be the biggest lie surrounding alcohol – most likely due to a misunderstanding of what causes the symptoms of a hangover. The idea behind it seems sound enough though – since alcohol is a depressant, you should counteract it with a stimulant.
The symptoms of feeling drunk or hungover are mostly due to your blood alcohol levels dropping, rather than the psychoactive effects of the drink. Symptoms that aren’t caused by the drop in alcohol are just your body working through it – it’s a matter of giving yourself time to flush it out of your system.
It’s not just the Alcohol
Alcoholic drinks can have negative consequences in everyone, but some people are more affected than others. For example, those with a barely, hops or yeast intolerance will find that a single pint of beer can cause uncomfortable side-effects like bloating or intestinal discomfort. Grapes, apples, pears and citric fruits can all be sources of unusual symptoms as well, as we can even be intolerant to these fruits. If you’re wondering whether you should be avoiding beer, lager or ale due to an intolerance or allergy, consider getting tested against their main ingredients.