Myths about alcohol are as abundant as the substance itself, with widely touted rumors on everything from ways to instantly sober up, craftily beat a Breathalyzer test or magically cure a hangover. It can be hard to separate fact from fiction.
While alcohol companies churn out often ads promising rebellion, excitement and sex appeal with your next swig, urban legends circulate on the other extreme, linking alcohol with everything from brain cell damage to beer bellies—even when liquor isn’t the culprit.
Here’s a look at seven common alcohol myths.
Fact: In reality, the opposite is true. Research shows that aspirin actually increases the amount of alcohol that ends up in your system, which makes you get drunk quicker—and stay drunk longer. In addition, mixing aspirin and booze can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding
Drinking after taking acetaminophen, found in Tylenol, can be even worse and may even lead to liver damage—so it’s best to heed the warning labels on the bottles for over-the-counter medications for this one!
Fact: People who wish to put themselves and others in harm’s way by driving drunk should know that stuffing a handful of coins in their mouths once they get pulled over will not help them evade responsibility.
The theory is that copper from a penny will absorb ethanol. But even if that were the case, pennies these days have very little copper these days—only 2.5% since 1982, according to the U.S. Mint. And even if you found a stash of old coins, or a magical substance that absorbs alcohol, it still won’t do the trick.
Police officers actually wait fifteen minutes before they have you take the Breathalyzer test, and they’ll also check your mouth to make sure nothing could throw off the results. And the test measures air deep within your lungs—so even if any of these tricks actually had an effect on the air in your mouth, they still wouldn’t trick the Breathalyzer.
Fact: This much is true—drinking beer excessively can certainly lead to weight gain. But the extra pounds won’t necessarily gravitate towards your belt line, according to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Although beer consumption did lead to increased waists circumference—which was closely related to overall weight gain—including bigger hips as well as a wider waistline. And a 2003 study indicated that a big gut has a lot to do with genetics, which can dictate where those extra pounds end up.
Fact: Women actually process alcohol much differently than men—even when controlling for size. Men are generally leaner than women, but both genders have roughly the same size liver. This means that women clear more alcohol per unit of lean body mass than men do, releasing it into the bloodstream quicker.
More alcohol in the blood means women get drunk faster, and it also leads to another problem. Women have way less of the enzymes that break down alcohol in their blood, making it nearly impossible to go shot for shot with even their smallest male drinking buddy without getting far more wasted.
Fact: Animal research suggests that caffeine might make you more alert, but this alertness doesn’t make your drunken state instantly vanish. A simulated drinking and driving study showed that while caffeine did slightly improve reaction time in addition to increasing alertness, it didn’t completely counteract the effects of alcohol impairment in these caffeinated drunk drivers.
Bottom line, the only thing that can sober you up is time.
Fact: Surprisingly enough, the opposite is true. Alcohol, in moderation, seems to have some positive health effects, including brain benefits.
In fact, a 2005 study of 11,000 older women showed that alcohol can actually improve brain function and lower the risk of mental decline by up to 20 percent. Women who downed one drink a day scored as about 18 months “younger,” on average, on tests of mental skills than the non-drinkers.
However, the key is moderation: one drink a day for women and two for men and has a number of health benefits. Heavy drinking boosts the threat of liver damage, some cancers, and heart problems.
Fact: The hair of the dog that bit you is one of the most pervasive drinking myths. Although having a drink in the morning after a night of partying might delay the symptoms of a hangover, once your blood alcohol content is back down to normal, your symptoms will return—possibly worse, due to the additional alcohol.
Water and time are the only legitimate hangover cures. Water will alleviate dehydration and time will ameliorates the symptoms. Additional alcohol won’t do either. To make things worse, the pattern of drinking in the AM can actually lead to alcohol dependency.
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