Whether the goal is to prevent a hangover, limit calorie intake, or throw caution to the wind for an all-out rager, many people follow a set of time-honored rules to get through a night of drinking with limited negative consequences. And while each may stem from a kernel of truth (or at least logic), they’re not exactly rules to live by.
1. Myth: Mixing alcohol with energy drinks makes you drunker.
It’s easy to interpret the combination of an alcohol-induced buzz and an energy rush from caffeine as a higher level of “drunk.” But the caffeine in energy drinks doesn’t actually intensify your drunkenness.
Instead, caffeine masks the sedative effects of alcohol that often cue people to stop drinking. As a result, people are tricked into thinking they have more energy than they actually do. This can lead them to continue drinking when they otherwise might call it a night.
That, in turn, can lead to negative consequences such as getting too drunk or having a terrible hangover the next day.
Fact: Energy drinks alter the perception of how intoxicated we really are but have no physiological effect on how those tequila shots affect us.
One exception? Mixing alcohol with diet soda may actually increase intoxication, research suggests, not because of its caffeine content but because diet mixers appear to increase the rate of alcohol absorption, researchers suspect.
While, for the most part, drinking too much can’t be blamed solely on Red Bull, it’s best to steer clear of this combo so you can stay aware of your limits and avoid any possible negative effects caused by drinking too much alcohol or too much caffeine.
2. Myth: Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you’re in the clear.
The reigning belief is that beer is a “softer” drink that can’t cause drunkenness as quickly as, say, shots of vodka. Switching to hard liquor after a few beers can make the feeling come on too fast, usually resulting in vomit (or so the myth goes).
So, starting with the hard stuff and then slowing down with beer should prevent the spins, right? Not so much.
Fact: According to the alcohol consumer education group AlcoRehab, the amount of alcohol you drink and the time you drink it in matter more than the type of drinks you consume or how you mix them.
Drinking too much of any alcohol too quickly can make you sick, whether it’s wine, beer, or liquor. No matter what you’re drinking, pacing is key.
3. Myth: Darker alcohols are always healthier.
Darker beers and wines generally have more antioxidants than light beer and white wine. The darker hues are thought to signify higher flavonoid content in beers and higher polyphenol content in wines.
Because of this, most people conclude that they pack more nutritional value and are therefore inherently healthier than their paler friends.
Fact: While darker alcohols may contain more antioxidants, they can also contain more congeners — toxic chemicals created during the fermentation process — which can worsen hangovers when you have a few too many.
This goes for beer, wine, rum, whiskey, gold tequila, and pretty much any drink with a darkish hue. If you need to avoid feeling sluggish the next day, you might want to switch out some of those darker drinks for lighter versions.
4. Myth: Older wine is better.
The year on the label must mean something, right? Aged wine is perceived as more complex in flavor, more expensive, and of a higher quality. So it must be better to let any bottle sit around for a while before uncorking it.
Fact: It depends on the type of wine, according to New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, in a column from October 22, 2018.
Some are meant to be consumed within one year of production and don’t get any better after time, while others are intended to be stored in a wine cellar for a few years to reach their peak quality.
Unfortunately, a wine that sits past its intended expiration date doesn’t get any more impressive with time. In fact, according to research, wine’s antioxidant content might actually decrease as it ages.
5. Myth: Dark beer is higher in alcohol than light beer.
Dark beers look like they’re thicker, fuller in taste, and higher in carbs and calories. Many also assume blacker brews, like porters and ales, are higher in alcohol.
Fact: While many light beers are in fact lighter in hue, color isn’t the sole indicator of a light-bodied, lower-calorie brew. Beer’s color depends on the type of grain it was made from.
Some dark beers, like stout, are actually lower in both alcohol and calories than their paler cousins.
6. Myth: Beer is a good workout recovery drink.
Some research has suggested that beer can rehydrate athletes better than water for three key reasons: one, beer’s vitamins and minerals offer health benefits that water doesn’t have; two, the carbonation helps quench thirst; and, three, the carbs help replenish energy stores.
Fact: In that one study, researchers saw only a slight rehydration benefit over water in the athletes they tested. Sports drinks containing sugars, salt, and potassium can similarly rehydrate an exhausted body withoutthe negative side effects of alcohol.
Plus, alcohol’s effects on the liver and pancreas inhibits the transport of digestive enzymes and essential nutrients through the body. This slows muscle growth and repair and interferes with the metabolism of carbs for energy.
Not exactly what the body needs after a long run or lifting session.
7. Myth: Puking helps you sober up and prevents hangovers.
Theoretically, getting rid of alcohol that hasn’t yet been digested (read: vomiting) means it won’t be absorbed by the body and can’t contribute to tomorrow morning’s headache.
Fact: Alcohol’s absorption into the bloodstream begins almost immediately, so getting rid of a likely small amount via vomit probably won’t make much of a difference.
If you’re at the puking point, there’s likely already too much alcohol in your body’s system to escape a hangover the next day.
8. Myth: Taking Tylenol or Advil before heavy drinking can reduce hangover effects.
It’s a nice thought: Chug some water and take a pill before bed to prevent feeling awful in the morning.
But while those preemptive efforts to stave off a thudding headache may seem wise, ultimately they don’t pay off. In fact, combining alcohol with pain relievers of any kind can do serious damage.
Fact: Taking those medications before the pain sets in won’t help — for one thing, the med’s power will wear off before your headache sets in.
Also, not many people realize that it can be extremely dangerous to take acetaminophen while having even just a few drinks, according to American Addictions Centers.
Acetaminophen is found not only in Tylenol but in hundreds of over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, Excedrin, Midol, and more. It’s also found in many prescription pain relievers, such as Percocet and Vicodin.
Taking aspirin, Advil, or any of the NSAIDs while drinking increases the risk of gastrointestinal troubles, like bleeding and ulcers. Best idea? Wait until your headache hits the next day, and then take an Advil, preferably with a big gulp of Pedialyte.
9. Myth: Eating before bed will reduce hangover.
Most of us have taken a drunken 3 a.m. journey to the local pizza shop with a hankering for greasy, cheesy goodness. And your fuzzy brain told itself eating was a good idea because food would soak up some of the alcohol.
Fact: Comforting as they are, those slices will do very little to sober you up or reduce the severity of your impending hangover. By the time that pizza hits the stomach, the alcohol you’ve consumed has already been absorbed into your system.
In fact, both alcohol and greasy food can contribute to acid reflux, which could mean you’ll feel even worse in the morning [Pan J, et al. (2019). Alcohol consumption and the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
10. Myth: Light beer is healthier.
This is a tricky one. Some folks think of light beer as healthier because it tends to contain fewer calories and a slightly lower alcohol content. But those qualities don’t necessarily make it a healthier choice.
Fact: For one thing, people may end up drinking more to compensate for the lower alcohol levels, ultimately consuming more calories than if they’d stuck with full-strength brews.
Also keep in mind that any one brand’s “light” beer is only light relative to that brand’s full-calorie counterpart. And calorie counts and alcohol content vary among brands. Besides, the number of calories in a product isn’t the sole determinant of how healthy it is.
Heavier, darker beer is likely to have more in the way of beneficial compounds that make moderate drinking good for you. (Caveat: See myth No. 3, above.)
11. Myth: Alcohol kills brain cells.
This is an easy assumption to make if you’re observing the often less-than-wise behavior that can result from knocking back a few too many. But an average night of drinking won’t lead to any long-term brain damage.
Fact: It may impair your thinking, but alcohol doesn’t permanently destroy brain cells. It damages dendrites, which are the little feelers on neurons that convey electrical messages from your brain to your body.
Neurons are the cells that act as communicators, triggering motor responses to physical stimuli. For example, if you touch something hot, neurons carry the message from your nerves to your brain, which send the return message to your arm to move your hand off the stove.
Dendrite damage interferes with those messages, which can account for all those poorly spelled texts and inability to walk in a straight line. Those effects are temporary, but it’s important to note that alcohol abuse can contribute to lasting defects. Long-term, excessive alcohol use can lead to memory problems and significant cognitive damage, according to American Addiction Centers.
12. Myth: Coffee and a cold shower will sober you up.
Jolting and brisk: It’s easy to think that this combo will banish sleepiness and reduce the effects of alcohol, but the wake-up call treats only the symptoms — not the cause — of fatigue brought on by a late night of drinking.
Fact: The human liver can process about one standard drink every hour. That’s 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.
Coffee or a dunk in cold water might wake you up a little, but it won’t speed up the process of eliminating the bad stuff from your system. Time is, unfortunately, the only cure.
13. Myth: Eating a big meal before drinking will help keep you sober.
This one is both sort of true and not true. Eating before drinking can slow your body’s absorption of the alcohol, but it can’t prevent you from getting drunk.
Fact: The body begins absorbing alcohol through the stomach lining and small intestine, so if your tummy is full of food, it will take longer for the buzz to literally sink in. This may delay your feeling drunk, but it won’t stop it completely.
Eventually, the stomach will empty from dinner and alcohol absorption will pick up again. Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea, but eating beforehand isn’t a free pass to pound shots, either. As with so many things when it comes to health, moderation is key.