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7 Myths About Drinking

Feb 3 2021
7 min read
close-up of man opening two bottles of beer

There seems to be no end to the confusion about alcohol and health. We all know that too much is bad, but what about a little every day?

A glass of wine at the end of a stressful workday, a beer on a sweltering summer afternoon or a hot toddy on a chilly evening: Is it helpful or harmful? The truth is that there is no easy or absolute answer to this question; as with so many health considerations, it depends on your specific situation.

To better understand how drinking can affect your health—and other areas of your life, including your personal and professional relationships—it helps to first dispel some common myths and misconceptions:

Myth #1: Alcohol Helps Me Sleep Better

A cocktail or two may indeed help you fall asleep, but it could also cause you to toss and turn, or wake up in the middle of the night or earlier than usual and quite the opposite of what you intended when you reached for a nightcap. Alcohol can disturb sleep through a couple of mechanisms per many medical experts. This first is simple because alcohol is a diuretic, so it makes you have to get up to pee. Second, once the alcohol starts wearing off in your body, it’s stimulatory; we tend to wake up then. You might be better off looking into other ways to bank a better night’s sleep, like reducing stress, cutting back on caffeine and creating a soothing nighttime routine.

Myth #2: Alcohol is Good For Me, As Long As I Choose Wine

A common misconception is that a glass of wine is better than a shot of tequila or a glass of beer, and that’s not true. Those other forms of alcohol work the same way in the body as wine does. This myth about wine—red wine, in particular— probably arose from research linking resveratrol, an antioxidant found in wine, to heart health. But recent research is casting doubt on the idea that resveratrol contributes to longevity or lower rates of heart disease, cancer or inflammation. The active ingredient in wine, beer and spirits that contributes to health is probably the ethanol alcohol itself per a medical expert who was once at Canyon Ranch.

Myth #3: I Should Get in A Drink or two A Day For The Health Benefits

While there may be some health benefits for moderate drinkers—defined as women who drink up to one drink per day, and men who consume up to two—the upsides aren’t powerful enough to recommend that someone start drinking or drink more than they already do. Keep in mind that if you’re already living a very healthy lifestyle and have a good lipid profile, drinking probably won’t help your heart much. Plus, new studies are suggesting that whether or not we carry certain genes may determine if we get heart-healthy benefits from drinking. If you’re looking to stay well, there are four much more powerful things you can do than raise a glass: Eat a healthy, balanced diet; prioritize a good night’s sleep every night; get plenty of exercise; and stop smoking.

Myth #4: I Drink More On The Weekends, But It's Ok Because I Don't Have Any Alcohol During The Week

Binge drinking—consuming five or more drinks in two hours for a man, and four or more drinks for a woman in the same amount of time—places too much stress on the liver, and over time, this pattern of drinking can raise your risk for liver disease, neurological damage, high blood pressure, stroke, some forms of cancer and accidents and injuries. Even if you’re not taking in so many drinks in such a short period, the potential health benefits of alcohol are associated with moderate consumption spread out over time, not all in one day. If that’s important to you, it’s best to stick to one or two drinks a day, if at all.

Myth #5: Drinking Loosens Me Up A Little And There's Nothing Wrong With That

A drink can take the edge off, for sure, especially in situations where you may not feel at home, or if you’re someone who doesn’t think of himself or herself as a social butterfly. If you come to rely on alcohol as a crutch to get you through unfamiliar or awkward scenarios, however, you risk needing more over time to get the same calming effect. And, with the help of too much “liquid courage,” it’s easier to overdo it and end up in a truly awkward situation—making a verbal faux pas with your boss or a potential client or taking a public tumble, for example. It might be better to spend some time considering how you can develop skills to make unknown situations less stressful, such as learning to quiet your nerves with simple breathing techniques.

Myth #6: Alcohol Can Help Get Things Going Again In The Bedroom

A glass or two might help ignite the spark between you and your partner, but too much can put that fire out just as quickly. Men who are inebriated might have trouble achieving an erection, while women might experience vaginal dryness. And both men and women tend to take longer to achieve orgasm when they’ve been drinking.

Dehydration can contribute to these problems, so try switching to water if you plan on getting romantic soon. If you can’t seem to get intimate without drinking, consider other ways to rekindle your passion, such as trying an exciting new (sober) activity as a couple or even exercising together. A relationship or sex therapist can help you discuss underlying issues that are driving the need to drink before getting intimate, or help you or explore different approaches to getting physical.

Myth #7: It's Not A Big Deal If I Have A Drink With My Sleeping Pill

Many people combine sleep aids (and other sedative and anxiety medications) with alcohol to conk out. The problem is that their impact on your system is then multiplied, making each drug stronger than it would be on its own. (It’s worth remembering that alcohol is a drug.) Simply put, sleeping medication and alcohol do not mix. First, both are depressants, which means they both slow respiration, and this can lead to an overdose; the risk goes up when you combine them.

Your likelihood of becoming dependent on both of them also increases when you take them together, and you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop combining them. You may only be taking one sleeping pill and two glasses of wine, but you can increase the chance of tolerance or addiction to the meds because you’re amplifying their effects per medical experts. They also warn that doing this also increases your tolerance for alcohol, creating more habituation and potentially addiction.