Facts & Fiction

This page corrects common alcohol and drinking myths, with research based facts and statistics.

Myth
Alcohol destroys brain cells.
Fact
The moderate consumption of alcohol does not destroy brain cells. In fact it is often associated with improved cognitive (mental) functioning. 1
Myth
White wine is a good choice for a person who wants a light drink with less alcohol.
Fact

Standard Drinks and Alcohol Equivalence

Learn what they are and why they'’re very important.

A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol and are the same to a Breathalyzer. [see Alcohol Equivalence and visit Standard Drinks] A standard drink is:
  • A 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine
  • A one and 1/2 ounce of 80 proof distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink). 2
Myth
A "beer belly" is caused by drinking beer.
Fact
A "beer belly" is caused by eating too much food. No beer or other alcohol beverage is necessary. 3
Myth
Switching between beer, wine and spirits will lead to intoxication more quickly than sticking to one type of alcohol beverage.
Fact
The level of blood alcohol content (BAC) is what determines sobriety or intoxication. 4 Remember that a standard drink of beer, wine, or spirits contain equivalent amounts of alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol and a drink is a drink.
Myth
Drinking coffee will help a drunk person sober up.
Fact
Only time can sober up a person...not black coffee, cold showers, exercise, or any other common "cures." Alcohol leaves the body of virtually everyone at a constant rate of about .015 percent of blood alcohol content (BAC) per hour. Thus, a person with a BAC of .015 would be completely sober in an hour while a person with a BAC of ten times that (.15) would require 10 hours to become completely sober. This is true regardless of sex, age, weight, and similar factors.5
Myth
Drinking long enough will cause a person to become alcoholic.
Fact
There is simply no scientific basis for this misperception, which appears to have its origin in temperance and prohibitionist ideology. 6
Myth
Drinking alcohol causes weight gain.
Fact
This is a very commonly believed myth, even among medical professionals, because alcohol has caloric value. However, extensive research around the world has found alcohol consumption be does not cause weight gain in men and is often associated with a small weight loss in women. [see Alcohol Calories & Weight]
Myth
Alcohol stunts the growth of children and retards their development.
Fact
Scientific medical research does not support this old temperance scare tactic promoted by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, the Prohibition Party, and similar groups. 7
Myth
Binge drinking is an epidemic problem on college campuses.
Fact
Binge drinking is clinically and commonly viewed as a period of extended intoxication lasting at least several days during which time the binger drops out of usual life activities. Few university students engage in such bingeing behavior. However, a number sometimes consume at least four drinks in day (or at least five for men). Although many of these young people may never even become intoxicated, they are branded as binge drinkers by some researchers. This practice deceptively inflates the number of apparent binge drinkers. In reality, the proportion of college students who drink continues to decline, as does the percentage of those who drink heavily. 8 [see Binge Drinking]
Myth
Men and women of the same height and weight can drink the same.
Fact
Women are affected more rapidly because they tend to have a slightly higher proportion of fat to lean muscle tissue, thus concentrating alcohol a little more easily in their lower percentage of body water. They also have less of an enzyme (dehydrogenase) that metabolizes or breaks down alcohol, 9 and hormonal changes during their menstrual cycle might also affect alcohol absorption to some degree. 10
Myth
A single sip of alcohol by a pregnant woman can cause her child to have fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
Fact
Extensive medical research studying hundreds of thousands of women from around the world fails to find scientific evidence that light drinking, much less a sip of alcohol by an expectant mother, can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Of course, the very safest choice would be to abstain during the period of gestation. [see Fetal Alcohol Syndrome]
Myth
People who abstain from alcohol are "alcohol-free."
Fact
Every person produces alcohol normally in the body 24 hours each and every day from birth until death. Therefore, we always have alcohol in our bodies. 11
Myth
Alcohol abuse is an increasing problem among young people.
Fact
Heavy alcohol use among people in the US 17 years of age or younger actually dropped by an amazing two-thirds (65.9 percent) between 1985 and 1997, according to federal government research. 12 The proportion of young people who consumed any alcohol within the previous month dropped from 50% to 19% in about the same period. 13 Other federally funded research also documents the continuing decline in both drinking and drinking abuse among young people. 14 Similarly, alcohol-related traffic injuries and fatalities among young people continue to drop. Deaths associated with young drinking drivers aged 16 to 24 decreased almost half (47%) in a recent 15-year period. 15 [see Underage Drinking]

Top 10 Alcohol Consuming Countries

  1. Portugal 2.98
  2. Luxembourg 2.95
  3. France 2.87
  4. Hungary 2.66
  5. Spain 2.66
  6. Czech Republic 2.64
  7. Denmark 2.61
  8. Germany 2.50
  9. Austria 2.50
  10. Switzerland 2.43
Myth
People in the US are generally heavy consumers of alcohol.
Fact
The US isn't even among the top ten alcohol consuming countries. Top 10 Alcohol Consuming Countries on per capita Basis Country / Consumption in Gallons of absolute or pure alcohol: At a consumption rate of only 1.74 per person, the US falls far down at 32nd on the list. 16
Myth
The US has very lenient underage drinking laws.
Fact
The US has the most strict youth drinking laws in the Western world, including the highest minimum drinking age in the entire world. 17 And this is buttressed by a public policy of Zero Tolerance.
Myth
Alcohol advertising increases drinking problems.
Fact
Hundreds of scientific research studies around the world have clearly demonstrated that alcohol advertising does not lead to increases in drinking abuse or drinking problems. Alcohol advertising continues because effective ads can increase a brand's share of the total market. 18 [see Alcohol Advertising]
Myth
Bottles of tequila contain a worm.
Fact
There is no worm in tequila. It's in mescal, a spirit beverage distilled from a different plant. And it's not actually a worm, but a butterfly caterpillar (Hipopta Agavis) called a gurano. 19
Myth
People who can "hold their liquor" are to be envied.
Fact
People who can drink heavily without becoming intoxicated have probably developed a tolerance for alcohol, which can indicate the onset of dependency. 20
Myth
Many lives would be saved if everyone abstained from alcohol.
Fact
Some lives would be saved from accidents now caused by intoxication and from health problems caused by alcohol abuse. However, many other lives would be lost from increases in coronary heart disease. For example, estimates from 13 studies suggest that as many as 135,884 additional deaths would occur each year in the US from coronary heart disease alone because of abstinence. 21 [see Alcohol & Health]
Myth
Drunkenness and alcoholism are the same thing.
Fact
Many non-alcoholics on occasion become intoxicated or drunk. However, if they are not addicted to alcohol, they are not alcoholic. Of course, intoxication is never completely safe or risk-free and should be avoided. It is better either to abstain or to drink in moderation. While consuming alcohol sensibly is associated with better health and longer life, the abuse of alcohol is associated with many undesirable health outcomes.
Myth
Alcohol is the cause of alcoholism.
Fact
As a governmental alcohol agency has explained, "Alcohol no more causes alcoholism than sugar causes diabetes." The agency points out that if alcohol caused alcoholism then all drinkers would be alcoholics. 22 In fact, a belief common among members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is that people are born alcoholic and are not caused to be alcoholic by alcohol or anything in their experience. They argue that many people are born and die alcoholic without ever having had a sip of alcohol. Of course, a person can't be a drinking or practicing alcoholic without alcohol.

Prohibition Problems

Unfortunately, prohibition leads to a number of alcohol and other problems such as death and disability from contaminated illegal alcohol, the growth of organized crime, an increase in heavy drinking when alcohol can be obtained, a serious loss of tax revenue, the discouragement of moderation in consumption, a widespread disrespect for the law, and many other social ills. 23

Even if it were somehow possible to prohibit the consumption of alcohol, people who have emotional or psychological problems and need a "crutch" would simply turn to the abuse of other, frequently illegal, substances. 24

Myth
If alcohol were less available there would be fewer alcoholics.
Fact
This is an idea that has been tested through prohibition in the US and a number of other countries. There is no association between the availability of alcohol and alcoholism.
Myth
College life leads to drinking by most students who enter as abstainers. 25
Fact
According to Federal statistics, most students arrive at college with prior drinking experience and te proportion of drinkers doesn't increase greatly during college. [see Underage Drinking]
Myth
Although not totally incorrect, but certainly not the whole truth, is the assertion that the younger children are when they have their first drink the more likely they are to experience drinking problems. 26
Fact
Generally speaking, people who on their own begin drinking either much earlier or much later than their peers begin are more likely to experience subsequent drinking problems. 27 This appears to result from the fact that either behavior tends to reflect a tendency to be deviant. Therefore, delaying the age of first drink would not influence the incidence of drinking problems because it would not change the underlying predisposition to be deviant and to experience drinking problems. 28 And, of course, children who are taught moderation by their parents are less likely to abuse alcohol or have drinking problems. 27

The material on this site is for information only and is not advice

References and Readings

This site does not dispense medical, legal, or any other advice and none should be inferred.
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