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Myths about drinking alcohol

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We know much more about the effects of alcohol today than in the past. Yet, myths remain about drinking and drinking problems. Learn the facts about alcohol use so you can make healthy decisions.

Myth #1: I Do Not Have a Problem Because I Can Hold My Liquor

Being able to have a few drinks without feeling any effects may seem like a good thing. In fact, if you need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol to feel an effect, it could be a sign you have a problem with alcohol.

Myth #2: I Only Drink on Weekends

You do not need to drink every day to have a problem with alcohol. Heavy drinking is defined by how much alcohol you have in a day or in a week.

You may be at risk if you:

Drinking this amount or more is considered heavy drinking. This is true even if you only do it on weekends. Heavy drinking can put you at risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, liver disease, sleep problems, and some types of cancer.

Myth #3: I Am Too Old to Have a Drinking Problem

You may think that drinking problems have to start early in life. In fact, some people develop problems with drinking at a later age.

One reason is that people become more sensitive to alcohol as they get older. Or they may take medicines that make the effects of alcohol stronger. Some older adults may start to drink more because they are bored or feel lonely or depressed.

Even if you never drank that much when you were young, you can have problems with drinking as you get older.

What is a healthy range of drinking for men and women over age 65 years? Experts recommend no more than 3 drinks in a single day or no more than a total of 7 drinks a week. A drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces (355 mL) of beer, 5 fluid ounces (148 mL) of wine, or 1½ fluid ounces (45 mL) of liquor.

Myth #4: I Do Not Have a Problem Because I Only Drink Wine and Beer

Problem drinking is not about what you drink, but how it affects your life. For example, if you can answer "yes" to any of the two following statements, drinking may be causing you problems.

Myth #5: Drinking is a Good Way to Take the Edge Off My Chronic Pain

People with long-term (chronic) pain sometimes use alcohol to help manage pain. There are several reasons why this may not be a good choice.

Myth #6: If I Drink Too Much, Coffee Will Sober Me Up

If you are drunk, nothing will help make you sober except time. Your body needs time to break down the alcohol in your system. The caffeine in coffee may help you stay awake. However, it will not improve your coordination or decision-making skills. These can be impaired for several hours after you stop drinking. This is why it is never safe to drive after you have been drinking, no matter how many cups of coffee you have.

References

Carvalho AF, Heilig M, Perez A, Probst C, Rehm J. Alcohol use disorders. Lancet. 2019;394(10200):781-792. PMID: 31478502 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31478502/.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Overview of alcohol consumption. www.niaaa.nih.gov/overview-alcohol-consumption. Accessed September 18, 2020.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Rethinking drinking. www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/. Accessed September 18, 2020.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism website. Using alcohol to relieve your pain: what are the risks? pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/PainFactsheet/Pain_Alcohol.pdf. Updated July 2013. Accessed September 18, 2020.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol use disorders. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 30.

US Preventive Services Task Force, Curry SJ, Krist AH, et al. Screening and behavioral counseling interventions to reduce unhealthy alcohol use in adolescents and adults: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. JAMA. 2018;320(18):1899-1909. PMID: 30422199 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30422199/.

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Review Date: 9/7/2020  

Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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