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4 Common Myths About Alcohol and What Science Says About Them

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Rumors that hard drinks kill the brain, while coffee helps sober up are somewhat exaggerated.

Drinking alcoholic beverages is one of the oldest traditions of mankind. And during its existence, it has managed to acquire a whole bunch of different myths. Some of them are a thing of the past, while others turned out to be surprisingly tenacious and still exist. This article will introduce you to the opinion of science about some of them.

Strong coffee can sober you up

Every novice alcohol lover always faces two problems: how to get drunk faster and how to sober up as soon as possible. There are many recipes for solving the second problem, including drinking strong coffee, which supposedly will return you to your clarity of thinking again. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t actually work.

Professor Anthony Moss from the University of South Bank told Food Unwrapped in the Food Unwrapped program that coffee will not sober you up faster: caffeine only helps to resist the sleepiness caused by alcohol.

This is confirmed by the experiments carried out by Moss. By the way, to give this scientist the opportunity to test drunk people, the University of South Bank opened the ‘Pub Lab’, its own pub. All for the sake of science.

Moss isn’t the first to find a link between caffeine and sobriety. Experts from Temple University in Philadelphia found that coffee won’t help you sober up even earlier.

Drinking coffee after heavy drinks is rather harmful because it will make it harder for you to fall asleep. So give up this idea and just go to bed.

man drinking beer on selective focus photography

Alcohol kills your brain cells

Look at drunk people: their coordination of movements is impaired, their speech is incoherent, they lose control over their emotions. Fans of a healthy lifestyle try to explain this by saying that alcohol kills the brain. On the Internet, there are often statements like “Three pints of beer kill 10 thousand brain cells.”

But this is not the case. Alcohol does not kill brain cells. Yes, ethyl alcohol can destroy cells and microorganisms, this is what makes it an effective antiseptic. But when you drink, your body does not allow ethanol to kill your cells. Enzymes in your liver break down, converting it first into acetaldehyde (which is really very toxic) and then into acetate, which breaks down into water and carbon dioxide and is excreted from the body.

Liver speed is limited. It can only process 0.35 liters of beer, 0.15 liters of wine or 0.04 liters of pure alcohol per hour. If you drink more, the liver does not have time to break down the alcohol and it enters the bloodstream.

Once it reaches the brain cells, ethanol does not kill them. However, it blocks the connection between neurons in the cerebellum — the part of the brain that is responsible for coordinating movements (which is why drunks are so clumsy).

Researchers at the University of Washington in St. Louis have found that alcohol does not kill neurons, even when injected directly into them. It only prevents them from transmitting information. This is unpleasant, yes. But, according to Professor Robert Pentney of the University of Buffalo, the damage is reversible — enough time without drinking, and the neural connections are restored.

In some people who drink heavily, brain neurons do die off. This occurs in patients with Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. But the reason for the death of neurons is not alcohol consumption, but a lack of vitamin B1 (or thiamine) and general malnutrition, which drunks often suffer.

Moreover, some studies generally say that moderate alcohol consumption does not affect cognitive function in the future or even slightly reduces the risk of dementia.

man drinking from clear glass bottle

Different drinks affect your behavior in different ways

We’ve all heard it before: whiskey makes you rowdy, tequila invites you to dance, rum makes you sad, and so on. People want to believe that there are special drinks that trigger a certain mood. But there is no scientific evidence for these myths, and from a chemical point of view, only the amount of alcohol in each of the drinks matters. This is confirmed by Dr. Guy Ratcliffe in What’s your poison? for The Guardian.

“The effects of alcohol are similar, whichever form they come in. Any difference is dependent on the rate at which it is drunk and the amount. Alcohol is a simple molecule that is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. So if you drink a few shorts — spirits are generally 40% ABV [alcohol by volume] – quickly, you’ll get a rapid increase in your blood alcohol level.”

Guy Ratcliffe

Most likely, such myths have a psychosocial basis. In different life situations, we choose different drinks, and then we get exactly the effect that our brain expects and which is most suitable for this situation.

Pickle juice, green tea, coffee or alcohol will cure your hangover

Every alcohol drinker has their own signature hangover-fighting recipe. Most often they repeat common folk remedies, although there are also completely unique “secret” methods. Only they don’t work.

Brine. In the USA, England, Poland, Russia and Japan, there is a myth that drinking brine (not necessarily cucumber — in Japan, for example, they prefer brine from sour plums) helps with a hangover. However, Dr. Tochi Iroku-Malise of Long Island, NY, says, that it is not. According to her, brine does not help with a hangover in any way, except that it reduces dehydration. But you don’t drink much of it, so it’s easier to prefer water.

Coffee. We’ve said before that coffee doesn’t help you sober up. It also does not help against a hangover. Nutritionist Melissa Majumdar of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics confirms that. And nutritionists generally do not recommend to mix caffeine and alcohol.

Green tea. Green tea, like coffee, contains caffeine. It also has a diuretic effect, which puts more stress on your kidneys and promotes dehydration. So it’s better to replace it with water too.

Alcohol. Drinking 100 g to sober up will temporarily raise your endorphin levels, making you feel better. But then the hangover will return. You already loaded your liver yesterday, there is nothing to add even more work to it, forcing it to break down an additional portion of booze.

In addition to the above, many people consume cabbage, eggs, ginseng, bananas and many other foods for a hangover. And they are all… useless. As the study by Oxford researcher Max Pittler shows, there is no conclusive evidence that any conventional drug is effective in preventing or treating hangover.

The best way to get rid of a hangover is to drink plenty of water and sleep. And the only reliable and accurately working preventive measure is, undoubtedly, abstaining from excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages the day before.