Busting 6 Drinking Myths

Get the sober facts from our expert

Wine glasses

When it comes to alcohol, the line between myth and fact can be blurry.

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Below, Gregory Collins, MD, section head of the Cleveland Clinic Alcohol and Drug Recovery Center, sets the record straight on myths about drinking.

Myth 1: Drinking perks you up at parties

Only partially true. Alcohol is a brain depressant that first acts by shutting off “executive functions” like judgment, mood control and natural inhibitions. Some people experience this as elation and excitement, while others experience the opposite: sleepiness, lethargy and even a depressed feeling. The bottom line: Alcohol interferes with normal brain activity, no matter how you feel when you drink.

Myth 2: A beer before bed helps you sleep

Alcohol interferes with normal sleep, during which your body cycles through light and deep phases of sleep. It inhibits refreshing, important REM sleep, leading to “REM rebound” later, with nightmares and trouble sleeping. Repeated alcohol use seriously disturbs sleep and makes it very difficult to re-establish a normal sleep pattern. This often leads to more drinking or to sedative abuse in the quest for sleep.

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Myth 3: A hot toddy can keep you warm on the ski slopes

Drinking will inhibit your body’s natural response to the stress of cold weather. Usually the body stores warm blood in its “core” to preserve important organ functions. With alcohol use, blood vessels in our extremities become artificially dilated, allowing warm blood to escape from the core into the peripheral circulation, where it cools. The result: the body can no longer keep vital internal organs warm, and overall body temperature drops.

Myth 4: A beer is less potent than a cocktail

Whether you’re drinking an ale or an “appletini,” beer and cocktails contain about the same amount of alcohol, and are equally potent.

Myth 5: Drinking coffee sobers you up when you’ve had a few too many

Coffee has no real effect on blood alcohol level, which is the major factor in determining your level of intoxication.

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Myth 6: Men and women react to alcohol in the same way

Wrong. Because of their smaller size, women generally have a lower total blood volume. So drinking the same amount produces higher blood alcohol concentrations — and a greater degree of intoxication — in women. Women need less alcohol than men to reach the “drunk driving” limit, 0.08 percent blood alcohol.

It takes only about four mixed drinks, beers or glasses of wine to be at the legal limit for drunk driving. Impairment of driving occurs at much lower blood alcohol levels. Don’t drink and drive!