Alcohol Facts & Fiction
This page corrects common alcohol and drinking myths, with research
based facts and statistics.
- Alcohol destroys brain cells.
- The moderate consumption of alcohol does not destroy brain cells.
In fact it is often associated with improved cognitive (mental)
- White wine is a good choice for a person who wants a light drink
with less alcohol.
A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of
whiskey or other distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts
of alcohol and are the same to a Breathalyzer. [see Alcohol
Equivalence and visit Standard
Drinks] A standard drink is:
Learn what they are and why they're very important.
- A 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer
- A 5-ounce glass of wine
- A one and 1/2 ounce of 80 proof distilled spirits (either
straight or in a mixed drink). 2
- A "beer belly" is caused by drinking beer.
- A "beer belly" is caused by eating too much food.
No beer or other alcohol beverage is necessary. 3
- Switching between beer, wine and spirits will lead to intoxication
more quickly than sticking to one type of alcohol beverage.
- The level of blood alcohol content (BAC) is what determines
sobriety or intoxication. 4
Remember that a standard drink of beer, wine, or spirits contain
equivalent amounts of alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol and a drink
is a drink.
- Drinking coffee will help a drunk person sober up.
- Only time can sober up a person...not black coffee, cold showers,
exercise, or any other common "cures." Alcohol leaves
the body of virtually everyone at a constant rate of about .015
percent of blood alcohol content (BAC) per hour. Thus, a person
with a BAC of .015 would be completely sober in an hour while
a person with a BAC of ten times that (.15) would require 10 hours
to become completely sober. This is true regardless of sex, age,
weight, and similar factors.5
- Drinking long enough will cause a person to become alcoholic.
- There is simply no scientific basis for this misperception,
which appears to have its origin in temperance and prohibitionist
- Drinking alcohol causes weight gain.
- This is a very commonly believed myth, even among medical professionals,
because alcohol has caloric value. However, extensive research
around the world has found alcohol consumption be does not cause
weight gain in men and is often associated with a small weight
loss in women. [see Alcohol
Calories & Weight]
- Alcohol stunts the growth of children and retards their development.
- Scientific medical research does not support this old temperance
scare tactic promoted by the Women's Christian Temperance Union,
the Anti-Saloon League, the Prohibition Party, and similar groups.
- Binge drinking is an epidemic problem on college campuses.
- Binge drinking is clinically and commonly viewed as a period
of extended intoxication lasting at least several days during
which time the binger drops out of usual life activities. Few
university students engage in such bingeing behavior. However,
a number sometimes consume at least four drinks in day (or at
least five for men). Although many of these young people may never
even become intoxicated, they are branded as binge drinkers by
some researchers. This practice deceptively inflates the number
of apparent binge drinkers. In reality, the proportion of college
students who drink continues to decline, as does the percentage
of those who drink heavily. 8
[see Binge Drinking]
- Men and women of the same height and weight can drink the same.
- Women are affected more rapidly because they tend to have a
slightly higher proportion of fat to lean muscle tissue, thus
concentrating alcohol a little more easily in their lower percentage
of body water. They also have less of an enzyme (dehydrogenase)
that metabolizes or breaks down alcohol, 9 and hormonal changes
during their menstrual cycle might also affect alcohol absorption
to some degree. 10
- A single sip of alcohol by a pregnant woman can cause her child
to have fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
- Extensive medical research studying hundreds of thousands of
women from around the world fails to find scientific evidence
that light drinking, much less a sip of alcohol by an expectant
mother, can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. Of course, the very
safest choice would be to abstain during the period of gestation.
[see Fetal Alcohol
- People who abstain from alcohol are "alcohol-free."
- Every person produces alcohol normally in the body 24 hours
each and every day from birth until death. Therefore, we always
have alcohol in our bodies. 11
- Alcohol abuse is an increasing problem among young people.
- Heavy alcohol use among people in the US 17 years of age or
younger actually dropped by an amazing two-thirds (65.9 percent)
between 1985 and 1997, according to federal government research.
The proportion of young people who consumed any alcohol within
the previous month dropped from 50% to 19% in about the same period.
Other federally funded research also documents the continuing
decline in both drinking and drinking abuse among young people.
Similarly, alcohol-related traffic injuries and fatalities among
young people continue to drop. Deaths associated with young drinking
drivers aged 16 to 24 decreased almost half (47%) in a recent
15-year period. 15
[see Underage Drinking]
Top 10 Alcohol
- Portugal 2.98
- Luxembourg 2.95
- France 2.87
- Hungary 2.66
- Spain 2.66
- Czech Republic 2.64
- Denmark 2.61
- Germany 2.50
- Austria 2.50
- Switzerland 2.43
- People in the US are generally heavy consumers of alcohol.
- The US isn't even among the top ten alcohol consuming countries.
Top 10 Alcohol Consuming Countries on per capita Basis Country
/ Consumption in Gallons of absolute or pure alcohol: At a consumption
rate of only 1.74 per person, the US falls far down at 32nd on
the list. 16
- The US has very lenient underage drinking laws.
- The US has the most strict youth drinking laws in the Western
world, including the highest minimum drinking age in the entire
And this is buttressed by a public policy of Zero
- Alcohol advertising increases drinking problems.
- Hundreds of scientific research studies around the world have
clearly demonstrated that alcohol advertising does not lead to
increases in drinking abuse or drinking problems. Alcohol advertising
continues because effective ads can increase a brand's share of
the total market. 18
[see Alcohol Advertising]
- Bottles of tequila contain a worm.
- There is no worm in tequila. It's in mescal, a spirit beverage
distilled from a different plant. And it's not actually a worm,
but a butterfly caterpillar (Hipopta Agavis) called a gurano.
- People who can "hold their liquor" are to be envied.
- People who can drink heavily without becoming intoxicated have
probably developed a tolerance for alcohol, which can indicate
the onset of dependency. 20
- Many lives would be saved if everyone abstained from alcohol.
- Some lives would be saved from accidents now caused by intoxication
and from health problems caused by alcohol abuse. However, many
other lives would be lost from increases in coronary heart disease.
For example, estimates from 13 studies suggest that as many as
135,884 additional deaths would occur each year in the US from
coronary heart disease alone because of abstinence. 21
[see Alcohol & Health]
- Drunkenness and alcoholism are the same thing.
- Many non-alcoholics on occasion become intoxicated or drunk.
However, if they are not addicted to alcohol, they are not alcoholic.
Of course, intoxication is never completely safe or risk-free
and should be avoided. It is better either to abstain or to drink
in moderation. While consuming alcohol sensibly is associated
with better health and longer life, the abuse of alcohol is associated
with many undesirable health outcomes.
- Alcohol is the cause of alcoholism.
- As a governmental alcohol agency has explained, "Alcohol
no more causes alcoholism than sugar causes diabetes." The
agency points out that if alcohol caused alcoholism then all drinkers
would be alcoholics. 22
In fact, a belief common among members of Alcoholics Anonymous
(AA) is that people are born alcoholic and are not caused to be
alcoholic by alcohol or anything in their experience. They argue
that many people are born and die alcoholic without ever having
had a sip of alcohol. Of course, a person can't be a drinking
or practicing alcoholic without alcohol.
prohibition leads to a number of alcohol and other
problems such as death and disability from contaminated
illegal alcohol, the growth of organized crime, an
increase in heavy drinking when alcohol can be obtained,
a serious loss of tax revenue, the discouragement
of moderation in consumption, a widespread disrespect
for the law, and many other social ills. 23
Even if it were somehow possible
to prohibit the consumption of alcohol, people who
have emotional or psychological problems and need
a "crutch" would simply turn to the abuse of other,
frequently illegal, substances. 24
- If alcohol were less available there would be fewer alcoholics.
- This is an idea that has been tested through prohibition in
the US and a number of other countries. There is no association
between the availability of alcohol and alcoholism.
- College life leads to drinking by most students who enter as
- According to Federal statistics, most students arrive at college
with prior drinking experience and te proportion of drinkers doesn't
increase greatly during college. [see Underage
- Although not totally incorrect, but certainly not the whole
truth, is the assertion that the younger children are when they
have their first drink the more likely they are to experience
drinking problems. 26
- Generally speaking, people who on their own begin drinking either
much earlier or much later than their peers begin are more likely
to experience subsequent drinking problems. 27
This appears to result from the fact that either behavior tends
to reflect a tendency to be deviant. Therefore, delaying the age
of first drink would not influence the incidence of drinking problems
because it would not change the underlying predisposition to be
deviant and to experience drinking problems. 28
And, of course, children who are taught moderation by their parents
are less likely to abuse alcohol or have drinking problems. 27
The material on this site is for information
only and is not advice
- 1. Dufouil, C. Sex differences
in the association between alcohol consumption and cognitive performance.
American Journal of Epidemiology, 1997, 146(5), 405-412;
Rouche, B. The Neutral Spirit. Boston, Massachusetts: Little,
Brown & Co. 1960, p. 76; Christian, J. C., et al. Self-reported
alcohol intake and cognition in aging twins. Journal of Studies
on Alcohol, 1995, 56, 414-416; Elias, P.K., et al.
Alcohol consumption and cognitive performance in the Framingham Heart
Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 1999, 150(6),
580-589; Bates, M.E., and Tracy, J.I. Cognitive functioning in young
"social drinkers": Is there impairment to detect? Journal of Abnormal
Psychology, 1990, 99, 242-249. Galanis, D. J., et al.
A longitudinal study of drinking and congnitive performance in elderly
Japanese American men in The Honolulu-Asia Aging Study. American
Journal of Public Health, 2000, 90, 1254-1259.
2. These are standard
drink sizes. Of course, five ounces of a fortified wine contain more
alcohol, as does a higher content beer or ale, or a distilled spirit
higher than the typical 80 proof. The equivalent sizes of these would
differ from standard drinks, a fact that drinkers should keep in mind
(Carroll, C.R. Drugs in Modern Society. Boston, Massachusetts:
McGraw-Hill, 2000, p. 77) Because standard drinks are equivalent in
alcohol content, it is misleading to refer to spirits as "hard liquor,"
which implies that drinking distilled spirits leads more quickly to
intoxication than other alcohol beverages.
3. Cline, C. N. (Ed.)
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) of Life. New York: Cader
Books, 1997, p. 639.
4. Carroll, C. R. Drugs
in Modern Society. Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw-Hill, 2000, p.
5. Avis, H. Drugs
and Life. McGraw-Hill, 1999, p. 40.
6. Furnas, J. C. The
Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: Putnam's Sons,
1965; Asbury, H. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition.
New York: Greenwood, 1968; Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise
and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1973. This myth
("If you drink long enough, you'll become a drunk") actually appears
on a web site for college students sponsored by the Center for Science
in the Public Interest. Unfortunately, this myth is neither scientific
nor in the public interest.
7. Kobler, J. Ardent
Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. New York: Putnam's
Sons, 1973; Barr, A. Drink: A Social History of America. New
York: Carrol & Graff, 1999; Asbury, H. The Great Illusion: An Informal
History of Prohibition. New York: Greenwood, 1968; Furnas, J.
C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New York: Putnam's
8. Wechsler, H., et
al. Changes in binge drinking and related problems among American
college students between 1993 and 1997: Results of the Harvard University
School of Public Health College Alcohol Survey. Journal of American
College Health, 1998, 47, 57-68; Institute for Social Research,
University of Michigan, 1997 (www.isr.umich.edu/src/mtf).
9. National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Women. Washington,
DC: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Alcohol Alert
#10 (October, 1990).
10. Avis, H. Drugs
and Life. McGraw-Hill, 1999, p. 63; Blume, S. Women: Clinical
Aspects. In: Lowenson, J., et al. (Eds.) Substance: A Comprehensive
Textbook. Baltimore, Maryland: William & Wilkins, 1997.
11. Philips, M. et
al. Endogenous ethanol - its metabolic, behavioral and biomedical
significance. Alcohol, 1986, 3, 239-247.
12. US Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied
Statistics, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Cited in Brunner,
B. (Ed.) Time Almanac 2000. Boston, Massachusetts: Information
Please, 1999, p. 388. Heavy use defined as 5 or more drinks on
same occasion on each of five or more days in previous 30 days.
13. Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Administration. The 1998 National Household Survey
of Drug Abuse. Washington, DC: Substance Abuse and Mental Health
14. Johnson, L. D.,
et al. National Survey Results on Drug Use from The Monitoring
The Future Study, 1975-1997. Washington, DC: National Institute
on Drug Abuse, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Vol.
I, Secondary School Students, 1998.; PRIDE Survey. News from
PRIDE Surveys, Sept. 8, 1999 (press release).
15. National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Health: Ninth Special
Report to the US Congress. Washington, DC: National Institute
on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1997; National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration. 1995 Youth Fatal Crash and Alcohol Facts. Washington,
DC: Department of Transportation, 1997.
16. Ash, R. The
Top 10 of Everything 2000. New York: DK Publications, 1999, p.
222; The World Health Organization (WHO) cited by Abramson, H. The
flip side of French drinking. San Rafael, California: The Marin
Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and other Drug Problems. Unpublished
paper, n.d., p. 1.
17. Barr, A. Drink:
A Social History of America. New York: Carroll & Graff, 1999 p.
268; International Center for Alcohol Policies. Drinking Age Limits.
Washington, DC: International Center for Alcohol Policies, 1998.
18. The definitive
review of the research literature is Fisher, J. C. Advertising,
Alcohol Consumption, and Abuse: A Worldwide Survey. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993.
20. Dennison, D.,
et al. Alcohol and Behavior. St. Louis, Missouri: C.V.
Mosby, 1980, p. 34.
21. Pearson, T.,
and Terry, P. What to advise patients about drinking alcohol. Journal
of the American Medical Association, 1994, 272 (12).
22. Bureau of Alcoholic
Rehabilitation. Shattering Myths About Drinking. Tallahassee,
Florida: Department of Health and Rehbilative Services, 1973, p. 11.
23. Hanson, D. J.
Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture and Control. Westport,
Connecticut: Praeger, 1995.
24. Bureau of Alcoholic
Rehabilitation. Shattering Myths About Drinking. Tallahassee,
Florida: Department of Health and Rehabilative Service, 1973, p. 16.
25. Johnson, L.D.,
O'Malley, P.M., and Bachman, J.G. National Survey Results on Drug
Use from The Monitoring The Future Study, 1975-1999. Rockville,
MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2000; Vol. I: Secondary School
Students, 1999; Vol II: College Students and Young Adults, 1999. Rockville,
MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2000.
- 26. Not only does
the federal government promote this belief, but also pushes behavioral
implications based on it. In its words: "Myth: There is no point in
postponing drinking until I'm over 21. Fact: Research shows that the
longer you postpone drinking, the less likely you are to ever experience
alcohol-related problems." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and
Alcoholism. Top Ten Myths about Alcohol. Washington, DC: National
Institutes of Health. (Poster, n.d.) Conclusions based on myth are
not likely to be valid or useful.
27. Velleman, R.,
and Orford, J. Risk and Resilience: Adults Who Were the Children
of Problem Drinkers. London, England: Harwood , 1999.
29. Pearson, T.,
and Terry, P. What to advise patients about drinking alcohol. Journal
of the American Medical Association, 1994 (September 28), 272(12).
Readings (Listing does not imply endorsement)
- Asbury, H. The Great Illusion: An Informal History of Prohibition. New
York: Greenwood, 1968.
Astin, A , et al. The American Freshman: Thirty Year Trends,
1966-1196. Los Angeles, California: University of California,
Higher Education Research Institute, 1997.
Commission on Substance Abuse at Colleges and Universities. Rethinking
Rites of Passage, Substance Abuse on American Campuses. New York:
Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 1994.
(An investigative reporter has revealed that much information in this
report is inaccurate, incorrect, or misleading.)
Ellison, R. C. Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Prolong Life?
New York: American Council on Science and Health, 1993.
Erdoes, R. 1000 Remarkable Facts about Booze. New York: Routledge,
Everet, A. S. Rum Across the Border. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse
Fisher, J. C. Advertising, Alcohol Consumption, and Abuse: A Worldwide
Survey. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993.
Furnas, J. C. The Life and Times of the Late Demon Rum. New
York: Putnam's Sons, 1965.
Grant, M., and Ritson, B. Alcohol: The Prevention Debate. New
York: St. Martin's , 1983.
Hanson, D. J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control.
Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1995.
Heath, D. The new temperance movement. Drugs & Society, 1989,
Kobler, J. Ardent Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
New York: Putnam's Sons, 1973.
Lender, M. E., and Martin, J. K. Drinking in America. New York:
Free Press, 1982.
Perdue, L., and Shoemaker, W. The French Paradox and Beyond.
Sonoma, California: Renaissance, 1992.
Stratton, K., et al. (Eds.) Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: Diagnosis,
Epidemiology, Prevention, and Treatment. Washington, DC: National
Academy Press, 1996.
Wechsler, H., et al. Binge drinking, tobacco, and illicit drug
use and involvement of college students: A survey of students at 140
American colleges. Journal of American College Health, 1997,