Drinking is good for your heart health. Coffee can sober you up. Having a drink or two won’t hurt anyone.  

You’ve likely heard at least one of these phrases. But is there any truth to the words?

When it comes to alcohol, myths abound. In truth, alcohol is a drug that should be consumed in moderation, if at all. For some people it’s a substance that can cause irreversible harm, for themselves and their families.  

In honor of Alcohol Awareness Month (April), we’re debunking some of the common misconceptions about alcohol, with the goal of empowering you to drink responsibly if you choose to imbibe.  

  1. Myth: Drinking is good for your heart health

Fact: You may have heard people say over the years that a drink or two is good for your heart. People may point to certain countries known for their wine and say that people are healthier there. But, in fact, “health” should not be a justification for drinking. Research abounds that shows the negative consequences of alcohol, including premature death and cardiovascular problems. In addition, alcohol can raise your risk for developing a number of different cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, colon and rectum, liver and breast. If you are going to drink, the recommendation is to keep it light: one drink a day or less for women and two for men.

  1. Myth: One serving of alcohol and one drink are the same thing.

Fact: Au contraire. One “standard” drink is considered 14 grams of pure alcohol, which, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is usually found in one 12-ounce beer (at 5% alcohol), one five-ounce glass of wine (at 12% alcohol) and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (at 40% alcohol). But the devil is in the details. Many craft beers have a higher alcohol content and are served in pints (16 ounces) or larger. Wine pours can be larger than five ounces, and it’s not uncommon to find an ABV (alcohol by volume) of 13%, 14% or 15% in wine. And if you’re drinking a cocktail, odds are it’s two to three ounces or even more, so a single drink could easily be a double serving.

  1. Myth: Alcohol is a stimulant.

Fact: Alcohol is actually a depressant. While some people may find that small doses of alcohol boost their mood and put more pep in their step, initially, drinking also serves to slow down the central nervous system, impairing your thinking and self-control. It can also impede your cognition, coordination and memory.

  1. Myth: Alcohol impacts everyone the same.

Fact: Different people process alcohol differently. The amount of water in your blood, for example, can help to dilute alcohol. That means that people who are smaller—and have less total blood in their body—may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. Gender can also make a difference. Even when comparing a man and woman of the same size, the woman tends to have less water in their body, so they may be more susceptible more quickly to the effects of alcohol. Ethnic background can play a role as well. Some people of East Asian heritage may experience nausea, flushing and a rapid heartbeat as a reaction to alcohol.

As people grow older, they may also find that they react differently to alcohol. Older women are often more sensitive to the effects of drinking than older men, although many men become more sensitive, as well. In addition, drinking while on certain medications can be dangerous.

  1. Myth: I drank too much but I can switch to coffee and sober up.

Fact: The only thing that will sober you up is time. When alcohol enters your body, and your bloodstream, it must run its course. Coffee may wake you up, but it won’t sober you up. Neither will water, or a big meal. Your best bet is going to bed. Whatever you do, don’t drive or engage in any potentially risky behavior.

  1. Myth: I can quit drinking any time I want.

Fact: Some people can, but others will be challenged to stop drinking. Alcohol use disorder is the name of the medical condition that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes as “an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, this condition impacts 28.8 million adults in the US and 753,000 adolescents.

If you think you might have alcohol use disorder, talk to your doctor. They might ask you questions about your thoughts and behaviors in the past year, such as the following (see additional questions here):

    • Have there been times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
    • Have you wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or even tried to do so, but couldn’t?
    • Have you spent a lot of time drinking, being sick from drinking and/or getting over the effects of drinking?
    • Have you wished for a drink so badly you can’t think about other things?
    • Have you continued to drink even knowing it’s causing problems with friends or family?
  1. Myth: My drinking won’t hurt anyone else, it’s all in good fun.

Fact: When consumed in excess, alcohol can be dangerous. In fact, excessive drinking is one of the leading causes of preventable death in this country, according to the CDC. On average, it shortens the lives of those impacted by 26 years. In the short-term, too much alcohol can lead to injuries (including motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings and burns), violence (homicide, suicide, sexual assault and intimate partner violence), medical emergencies from alcohol poisoning, risky behaviors when it comes to sex (unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners) as well as risks for pregnant people, including stillbirth, miscarriage and fetal alcohol syndrome. Longer term, excessive drinking can increase the risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and cancer.

After reading these myths, if you have concerns about your own drinking habits, be sure and talk with your doctor, or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s hotline,  1-800-662-HELP (4357), to get the help you need.  If you’re in crisis, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.