Food & Drink

11 Myths About Alcohol You Shouldn't Believe

There are a lot of times in this world when ignorance really is bliss. Remember how magical life was before you found out (spoiler alert) there's no Santa? How badass wrestling was before you learned it's fake? How infallible your parents were before you hit puberty? 

But when it comes to alcohol, blissful ignorance only brings about unnecessary suffering, horrible hangovers, and misguided advice. Myths prevail in the booze world, and it's about time some of them get busted before your ignorance lands you on the bathroom floor again this Saturday.

Beer before liquor, never been sicker

It sounds logical enough: start with a few beers, and the following tequila shots will hit you harder. Start with shots, and beers help you "wind down" for the night. In reality, neither of these apply. Alcohol is alcohol (is alcohol). The order (or mix) of the drinks doesn’t matter nearly as much as the quantity of alcohol entering your body at any given point. 

What makes your life suck in the morning may have less to do with the order of drinks, and more to do with the total alcohol and congener content of the drinks you're throwing in the mix. Congeners are toxic byproducts of certain drinks, and typically the darker the drink, the higher the congener count. The "never been sicker" part you’ll feel the next day... no matter when you drink it.

Showers, energy shots, and Bloody Marys cure hangovers

When a hangover has you in its devil's death grip, you'll try (and believe) just about anything for some sweet relief. From ancient folk remedies (bull penis, anyone?) to pseudo-pharmaceutical concoctions, the mystery of hangovers has left plenty of room for theories about how to cure them. 

Just as vitamin C does nothing for your cold, your own personal hangover playbook likely does nothing for your tortured soul. Modern science has shed some light on actual hangover cures, and showers, energy shots, pickle juice, and Sunday morning mimosas have no place on that list. But if coffee and aspirin make your playbook, then congratulations: you've got yourself a solid lineup.
  

Alcohol kills brain cells

It may certainly seem true as your friend stage-dives off the bar onto three horrified strangers. This dumb-ass behavior, along with your impaired memory tomorrow, is thanks to reduced inhibitions and damaged nerve endings called dendrites, not dead brain cells. Studies have shown that even heavy drinking can’t slaughter your brain cells. They’re resilient little bastards. 

Your dendrites? Not so much. Dendrites carry messages between your brain and your body, and as you booze up, the messages get slower, screwing up your motor skills and learning ability. Anyway, the point is that you’re not committing cellular murder by drinking... just cellular assault.

Beer causes a beer belly

OK, so this one’s a little true, but there's a pretty big proviso. Saying that beer causes a beer belly is like saying bacon causes a bacon belly or bananas cause a banana belly. An excess of calories from anything, starting with "b" or otherwise, will pack on the pounds. While all calories are definitely not equal, they still play a major role in the fat-gain game. Consume more than you burn, and you'll gain weight. Period. The notorious belly reputation of beer is thanks in part to its typically high calorie content and how easy it is to consume those calories. But if you keep those calories balanced, you can kiss that belly goodbye, no matter where it came from.
  

Breaking the seal means you'll pee more frequently

Drinking alcohol will make you pee. That's a fact. It suppresses a hormone called vasopressin, causing fluids to get directed to the bladder. It's also a diuretic, sucking water out of your cells, and forcing it to the bladder. As these two mechanisms activate, it becomes increasingly difficult to resist the urge to go. At this point, breaking the seal feels akin to killing the watchman: once it's done, all hell breaks loose. 

The only difference? The watchman's death is actually significant. Breaking the seal is all in your head. If you feel like you can't stop peeing once you start drinking, it's because those two mechanisms are still at work as long as there's alcohol in your system. No magical seal can prevent that from happening, so trying to hold it does little more than torture yourself and everyone around you with your pee-pee dance.
  

You can beat a breathalyzer

No. Just no. All those mints and pennies can't trick the chemical reaction used to measure your blood alcohol content. And if you're ever in a situation where you feel the need to beat a breathalyzer, maybe just lie down and take a nap instead of jumping in the driver's seat. Or call a cab, or your mom, or your local congressperson, provided you're close enough to him or her to ask for a lift. This isn't a test that you want to fail.

Different alcohols make you act differently

Don't give Dave tequila: he'll challenge everyone in the room to a dance-off. Don't let Becky have whiskey: she'll bite someone's ear off. Many people claim to have "their drinks" that make them act certain ways. 

Science would say there's only one drink (alcohol) that makes you act one way (intoxicated). Your resulting behavior/attitude is no more than a placebo effect created out of your own expectations and experiences. If you used to have whiskey with your dad during rounds of golf, you probably associate it with good times (unless your dad's an asshole). If you used tequila in college to get the party started, you probably expect it to be the party catalyst. Expectations are a powerful force, so you can easily make yourself feel a certain way with certain drinks. But it has nothing to do with the drink itself.
  

One drink per hour will keep you sober

If everyone were the same gender, size, and age, this would be a fantastic rule of thumb. But because these and a dozen other factors determine our BAC, it has no basis in reality. If your 4'11", 100lb, 48-year-old, hungry, diabetic, alcohol-sensitive aunt just had a tequila shot, it’ll probably be a couple hours before she's back to even. Andre the Giant, on the other hand, could probably take a few more hits.
  

Nightcaps will help you sleep

Contrary to long-held beliefs, alcohol is more than just a sedative. Modern science has unveiled the stimulating effects of booze to be just as strong, if not slightly stronger, than the sedative effects. The worst of these stimulations is the one that screws with your sleep. 

While you may fall asleep faster, alcohol prevents your brain from falling into restorative REM sleep, which goes a long way toward making you feel truly rested. The lack of deep sleep weakens your immunity, slowly kills you, and turns you into an asshole

Old wine is better

Sorry if you've been saving that $5 bottle of merlot you got back in 2003 for a special occasion. Unless you like strong notes of vinegar with a slightly putrid aftertaste, you should probably toss it out. According to wine pros, up to 98% of wine is produced to be consumed almost immediately (or at least within a couple years). That's especially true for any wine under $30 a bottle. Not only does quick consumption protect your taste buds, but it also provides the maximum antioxidant benefits for most wines. On the plus side, drinking wine faster shouldn't be a problem, right?
  

Puking/eating/chugging water before bed prevents hangovers

It's 3am, and you've had a few too many. If you're just now trying to attack your system with tacos/purging/gallons of water, you're about six hours too late. At this point, the vast majority of alcohol has already infiltrated your system, and any action you take will only affect the small amount left in your digestive tract. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of hangover cures, so always plan ahead before you drink, and you won’t be spending the next 37 hours in hell.
 
A little knowledge goes a long way in the realm of libations, and there's little doubt that ignorance about booze has stolen a lot of bliss from your own life. Time to get learned up, so you can drink smarter and party harder.

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Nicholas Knock is a freelance writer for Thrillist who loves testing scientific theories about drinking. You can follow him on Twitter: @nickaknock.