6 Ridiculous Drinking Myths You Probably Believe
Our data tell us that, statistically, a significant portion of you are drunk right now. But even though drinking is one of the world's favorite pastimes (and one that kills about 90,000 Americans a year), most people know shockingly little about it.
As we've discussed before, there are lots of misconceptions floating around about everything from how to cure a hangover to how to spot an alcoholic. Let's see if we can clear up a few more:
Myth: An Alcoholic Is Anyone Who Drinks a Lot
OK, this one's a no-brainer. Alcoholism is sort of like cosplay. You start off small (maybe a simple Resident Evil getup at the office Halloween party), and before you know it, you're participating in an awkward (and itchy) Voltron orgy in a cheap motel room at Comic-Con, wondering where your life went so terribly wrong as you halfheartedly grind against a foam robot lion.
It all starts with getting drunk that first time. Then, you get drunk again, and again, ad infinitum. Over time, it takes more and more booze to get you to the same level of drunkenness as before, so you ... drink more and more booze. Boom! Alcoholism.
That college student who binge drinks four or five nights a week? Chances are, even if he continues that behavior well after graduation, he's probably not going to end up as a hopeless drunk living in a van down by the river. That's because heavy drinking is actually more of a symptom of alcoholism than a cause -- while it seems paradoxical, most people who drink a lot are not alcoholics, or even alcohol dependent. And this fact is one of many reasons it's so hard for actual alcoholics to get help.
So if drinking a lot doesn't make someone an alcoholic, what does? Drinking to cope with problems, to manage stressful situations, and to alleviate depression, to name a few. Alcoholism is more of a physiological and psychological dependence on drinking to make it through life than it is a byproduct of the amount of drinking you do. That's why recovering alcoholics quickly learn that "not drinking" is just one part of the battle -- the mechanism that made them dependent is still there, and simply doesn't exist in some drinkers. For instance, their binge-drinking friend who has no problem going without booze for weeks on end. When that guy says, "I'm not an alcoholic, I just like to drink," he's actually telling the truth, where alcoholics are lying to themselves when they say the same thing.
To be perfectly clear: drinking a shitload of alcohol every night is bad for you no matter who you are -- but somewhere right now there is a guy who binge drinks for fun who can't understand why his alcoholic friend isn't allowed to just "cut loose every now and then."
Myth: "Hair of the Dog" Can Cure Your Hangover
You know the feeling: you wake up after a night of trying to single-handedly deplete your local bar's stock, and you feel like unadulterated horse shit. Your stomach wants to emigrate to Porcelainistan, while your eyeballs just want to pop out and strangle you with your own optical nerves. Luckily, you also know the cure, passed down through generations of somewhat less than responsible drinkers: hair of the dog -- the art of easing into sobriety by taking a few drinks in the morning.
And it makes sense, when you think about it. After all, a lot of what you're feeling when you're hungover are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, so by doing flaming shots for breakfast you're simply giving your body what it's missing.
Yeah, that would make sense if alcohol withdrawal and a hangover were the same thing, which they're totally not.
Most people will never experience alcohol withdrawal, due to the simple fact that most people are not chronic alcoholics (see #6 above). Alcohol withdrawal is the body's alarmed response to taking away the constant stream of convenience-store wine it's been receiving for a prolonged period, while a hangover is merely a byproduct of the processes your body undergoes when it breaks down the toxins introduced by alcohol.
Basically, alcohol inhibits production of vasopressin, which in turn makes you pee. So you pee out vital salt and potassium and water, and as a result you end up with headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Then, when your liver starts breaking down the booze, a compound called acetaldehyde, which is estimated to be around 10 to 30 times as toxic as alcohol, is produced, making all those symptoms a good 10 to 30 times worse. And to top it all off, the resulting dehydration literally shrinks your brain, which may explain why you hit on that poster of Jean-Claude Van Damme at the bar last night.
All of that is to say that the complete and thorough shittiness of a hangover is directly associated with the effects of too much drinking, not a lack of it. While it might make you temporarily feel better, in the long run drinking more alcohol when your body is still processing what's left over from the night before will only further increase the toxins in your system and prolong the time it takes to get back to feeling like you're not dying.
Myth: Certain Wines Should Be Paired Only With Certain Foods
If you're not the fancy type, you've at least seen this in movies and cooking shows -- certain wines go with certain dishes, and sophisticated people know the difference. Hell, fancy restaurants even pay a guy to come stand next to your table and look down on your general worth as a human being if you make the wrong choice.
That's because drinking, say, a white wine with steak is the culinary equivalent of attempting to enjoy fine art after having your pupils dilated at the eye doctor. And if you happen to prefer sweet wines? Well, in that case you may as well just go back to drinking mead in between bouts of crushing your enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women with the rest of the barbarians.
When they're not being paid to push you toward the most expensive bottle in a restaurant's stock, wine experts are whispering to each other about how big a load of crap wine pairing is, probably over glasses of perfectly OK Two-Buck Chuck.
It turns out all that really matters is your personal preference -- none of the so-called rules about which wine goes best with chicken will make a grape's foreskin of difference if you happen to think white wine tastes like what happens when a pubescent high school quarterback accidentally drops a grape into his gym sock. No one's taste buds work quite the same, and as a result no two people will have exactly the same preferences when it comes to which foods they enjoy with which wines. Oh, and those poor, unsophisticated sops who prefer sweet wines? As a matter of fact, they have better taste sensitivity than even the snootiest of winos.
Wine experts have gone so far as to conduct scientific studies to test the theories behind wine pairings, and they found that what enhances the flavors is not the pairing of the wine and the dish itself but the interaction of primary flavors. Dishes that are high in sweet and umami will enhance bitter and sour flavors in a wine, while salty and acidic dishes will make a wine taste richer and smoother. Seeing as how not every dish containing the same base ingredient (fish, beef, etc.) will have the same flavor profile, there really is no one "right" wine for every type of dish.
In fact, Master of Wine (yes, that's a thing) Tim Hanni has gone so far as to label wine pairings "a fraud." It's all a big ploy to sell you more books about wine and encourage you to spring for the more expensive bottle in the name of being perceived as more sophisticated, like a high school popularity contest with way more mispronounced French terms.
Myth: Beer Before Liquor, Never Sicker; Liquor Before Beer, You're in the Clear
Ah, the age-old wisdom that it's not about what you drink or how much -- it's all about the order in which you drink it. As long as you approach getting precariously shitfaced with a hefty dose of OCD, you'll never have to worry about keeping a checklist of hangover cures.
It would be easy to dismiss this saying as an absolute crock of crap, if it weren't for the fact that so many people have seen it proven true with their very own (sore ... so sore) eyeballs.
Make sure you're sitting down for this, because what we're about to tell you might come as a complete shock. What you drink is nowhere near as important as the amount you drink. In fact, it's not important at all -- drinking four beers and four shots will make you precisely the same amount of sick whether you drink all the beers first, all the shots first, or drink them in completely random order after juggling them like a circus clown.
As far as scientists can reckon, this perceived importance of the beer/liquor order comes from the fact that, during a night of heavy drinking, partiers tend to start with the more casual drinks before graduating to shots or bombs, so they blame the last thing they drank for damn nigh killing them the next morning.
Another factor that probably contributes to the pervasiveness of this myth has to do with serving sizes: while a beer and a shot contain about the same amount of alcohol, beer comes in a serving that's about a thousand percent bigger. So while you can easily overdo it when graduating from beer to liquor, you'd have to drink yourself into a walking waterbed mattress in order to get the same amount of alcohol into your system had you stuck with good ol' oat soda. Moderation is the key, and moderation tends to fly straight out the window when the cute widdle glasses come out to play.
Myth: Puking Will Sober You Up and Help You Avoid a Hangover
We've all been there: You're approaching the end of a night of nonstop, no-holds-barred, "screw tomorrow because I'm living tonight WOOOO!" fucking drinking. Then it hits -- the urge to transform the nearest flat surface (bar top, parking lot, your best friend's favorite vintage Wham! T-shirt) into a work of bile-scented abstract art.
And when that urge hits, it's best to just give in to it. Because at that point you've clearly had too much, and relieving yourself of all that excess alcohol before it gets into your system will at least help you start sobering up and, if not avoid then at least minimize, the next morning's case of shit-filled cranium.
Puking does approximately zippo to get rid of alcohol before it gets into your system, because -- surprise! -- most of it's already there. Alcohol absorption works by way of simple diffusion into the bloodstream through the lining of your stomach and small intestine, and this happens so quickly that pretty much the only way to get rid of it would be to hork every drink right back up after you drink it.
Since alcohol bypasses your digestive system altogether -- preferring to sneak out of your body's alternative exit (your liver) instead -- it's actually not even the alcohol that makes you feel sick but your stomach's tendency to pump out noxious amounts of hydrochloric acid when you drink a lot. All that acid in your stomach tells your brain that whatever's in there needs to come out (preferably in an explosive manner), but by that time the booze has already bailed to hang out with all the cool kids in your bloodstream.
So go ahead and pray to the porcelain god if you must (it's not like you have much of a choice, anyway) -- just don't do so with the expectation of some sort of divine hangover intervention.
Myth: Underage Alcohol Abuse Is an Ever-Growing Epidemic
According to your mom and every teenage comedy movie ever, the true definition of "adolescence" is "a state of perpetually wondering where one's next six-pack might come from, because PARTY!"
And college? Oh man, don't even get us started on college. (Mainly because we can't remember it, like, at all.)
Underage drinking is on the decline, and has been for quite some time. The number of teens who abused alcohol dropped by a whopping two-thirds from 1983 to 1997, and while that statistic may sound outdated, studies have consistently shown a steady downward decline in underage drinking since 1980, with a 2013 study by the CDC showing that it has hit an all-time low.
So apparently today's kids just aren't drinking as much as Judd Apatow would have you believe, possibly because they've gotten addicted to even more obnoxious pastimes instead. And while your average college student undoubtedly drinks more than your average high schooler (they're at or approaching legal age, after all), it seems they've gotten a bum rap as well. A recent study found that well over 90 percent of college students have never once encountered any type of academic or legal trouble as a result of drinking.
So it would appear that decades of teen drinking laws and PSAs have done the job (there are zero-tolerance policies in place all across America). So if most kids today are still abusing alcohol, then they're exceptionally good at not getting caught. So we suppose it could just be that we're raising a generation of criminal masterminds, which would still be pretty impressive.
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