By now, the majority of the population knows that alcohol is not healthy. Science backs this up, as more research than ever delves into the harmful effects of alcohol. Despite this research, there are still plenty of misconceptions in our society about alcohol.
These myths can be harmful, leading to issues with alcohol use, which is why it’s important to know facts from fiction. Below are several myths that are frequently and incorrectly reinforced as fact through alcohol marketing, the media, and even in our own social circles.
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MYTH #1: Alcohol reduces anxiety.
TRUTH: How many times have you heard, “Have a drink” or “I need a drink” as a response to a stressful situation? From romantic comedies to memes on Instagram, alcohol is frequently pointed to as an instant solution for stress and anxiety.
It is true that the immediate effects of alcohol do back up the idea that it can work to quell anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system, so when first consumed, it has a sedative effect that gives the illusion anxiety has all but disappeared. Alcohol also temporarily elevates mood-boosting neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
However, that instant gratification does not last long. As soon as alcohol starts to leave the body, it becomes deficient in these same chemicals, which can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety as well as depression. Furthermore, according to Verywell Mind, long-term effects of alcohol can actually cause anxiety or make the symptoms of an anxiety disorder worse.
For those with social anxiety, drinking can seem like the perfect solution for social situations that seem intimidating. However, using alcohol to cope with socializing can quickly become a vicious cycle. In fact, according to an article from Healthline, about 20% of people with a social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol dependence.
“Relying on alcohol to alleviate social anxiety often leads to underdeveloped coping skills to navigate social situations sober,” said Kristen Feemster, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).
MYTH #2: One drink or glass of wine a day is good for you.
TRUTH: According to recent research published in The Lancet, the safest level of drinking is none, because the risks of cancer and other illnesses outweigh any benefits of moderate drinking. Not only that, but alcohol has no nutritional value and can actually cause nutritional issues.
“Reactive hypoglycemia, [also known as] low blood sugar after a meal, occurs with alcohol consumption, which produces cravings for food and/or drinks that will rapidly increase blood sugar levels (such as sugar and alcohol),” said Dani Moravek, MSCN, Functional Nutritionist and Founder of Creative Nutrition Co. “No matter the amount consumed, alcohol can cause major nutritional deficiencies and increase the risk of developing fatty liver disease.”
MYTH #3: Occasional binge drinking isn’t harmful.
TRUTH: While some may associate binge drinking with all-night keg parties from their college days or drinking a few bottles of wine in one sitting, the number of drinks that qualify as binge drinking may be less than you think.
Binge drinking is defined by the CDC as four drinks or more for women and five or more drinks for men on the same occasion. Even if you only binge drink once a month at a work happy hour or once a year on New Year’s Eve, binge drinking always has the potential to be harmful.
“Occasional binge drinking is harmful because it is the type of drinking that most often puts you at risk,” said Amanda White, MA, LPC. “When you binge drink, you are more likely to end up in a car accident, fall and hurt yourself, end up with alcohol poisoning, or forget to use protection when engaging in sex.”
White continues: “According to the CDC, engaging in binge drinking can cause cancer of the esophagus, liver, colon, breast, and mouth. You can also end up with other chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.”
MYTH #4: Alcohol improves sexual performance.
TRUTH: For many people, sexual encounters and alcohol often go hand-in-hand. Lowered inhibitions, however, do not provide authentic confidence that will last once the alcohol wears off if you’re relying on it to feel comfortable with intimacy.
“What alcohol does is turn off your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain responsible for making decisions through rationality,” said White. “It doesn’t give you ‘courage’ or ‘confidence’, it simply dulls the part of your brain that thinks through possibilities.”
Your body is also less sensitive, and sex is less pleasurable when you’re drinking because alcohol dulls sensations in your body. Alcohol can also stunt sexual performance in both males and females.
“Females produce less lubrication, making sex less pleasurable and men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation,” said White.
MYTH #5: Alcohol is not a drug.
TRUTH: Though legal and accessible, alcohol is an addictive drug. Full stop.
“The only difference between alcohol and other drugs is our perception of it and how normalized it is,” said White “In fact, many scientists and researchers say that alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs. This may be hard for people to fathom, but the truth is when scientists ranked the harm that drugs cause across 16 criteria, alcohol was ranked the highest, followed by heroin and crack cocaine.”
It’s also one of the most deadly addictive drugs. In fact, it causes around 95,000 deaths annually in the U.S., making it the third leading cause of preventable death according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
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From the fitness industry to pandemic-specific advertising, alcohol companies are trying hard to combat the new, highly popular lifestyle choice of living alcohol-free. Their constant advertising does not make alcohol any less harmful, though. It’s more important than ever to understand the facts.