Debunking Macho Myths about Alcohol

Most myths and statements about alcohol fall into the macho category. That is, they’re usually boastful and don’t have much truth to them. Some, in fact, are downright false. Sadly, myths about drinking perpetuate, passed along by word of mouth and embellished to the point where it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. Here are some of the most common macho myths and statements about alcohol – and why they are or aren’t true.

1. I Can Drink You Under the Table – No one knows where this myth – which is actually an often-heard statement – originated. But it’s typical of macho-type individuals, male and female, who seek to prove something to themselves and others. Maybe they’re trying to keep up with their partying friends. Maybe it’s on a dare, or part of a binge-drinking episode so common on college campuses (and high school parties where liquor is consumed and there are no adult chaperones). The very utterance of the statement incites abuse of alcohol. More and more alcohol is consumed until one or both parties in the so-called contest are totally soused, intoxicated, or passed out. None of these outcomes are favorable. Who’s the winner here? The answer is no one. This is one myth that needs to be quashed. While there are certainly individuals who appear to be capable of handling more alcohol than others, deliberately consuming alcohol to the point of one or both parties falling over is never a wise idea.

2. Drinking Doesn’t Affect Me – There is no human being who can drink without limit and not have it affect him or her. The degree to which alcohol affects and individual depends on numerous factors, including weight, body mass, gender, sensitivity to ingredients, family history of alcoholism, previous exposure to alcohol, and others. When someone tells you or you say the words yourself, that drinking doesn’t affect them, it’s an outright lie. Deep down inside, you know it to be false. Yet people continue to say and even believe the falsehood. Why is that? For many, it could be the desire to fit in with the crowd, to not appear the oddball, to be popular, or to just escape. Someone with little or no experience with alcohol, particularly adolescents and teens, is more likely to make such a statement than an older and, hopefully, wiser individual – but not always. A good rule of thumb: If you hear someone make such a statement, walk away. You don’t want to be anywhere near someone who boasts about being immune to the effects of alcohol. You definitely don’t want to get in a car with that person. That’s just asking for disaster.

3. I Can Hold My Liquor – This macho myth and statement is akin to “drinking doesn’t affect me” in that it is both stupid and wrong. What does it mean to hold your liquor anyway? First of all, the more you drink, the more you need to get rid of the excess fluid. Alcohol acts as a diuretic. The more you drink, the more you need to go to the restroom. But that doesn’t get rid of the liquor. The alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream and the toxins build up in your liver – which then tries frantically to process them and eventually eliminate them. The more a person drinks, the more this process is stymied. After a certain point, impairment sets in – and it comes sooner than later for some drinkers. Signs of intoxication include slurred speech, impaired movements, lack of coordination, confusion, poor judgment, anger, hostility, mood swings and emotional outbursts, slowed respiration, blackouts, and unconsciousness. For some who continue to drink in the belief that they can hold their liquor, alcohol intoxication can become alcohol poisoning, which can lead to death.

4. I Only Drink Beer – A variation of this would be, “I only drink light beer.” But both are misleading. The implication is that drinking beer (any kind, including light beer) means you won’t get drunk. That’s just wrongheaded thinking. If you drink enough beer – whatever the alcohol content – you’ll get drunk, or be impaired to the extent that you’re a danger to yourself or others. Beer ranges in percent alcohol content from a little over 3 percent for some light beers to 10+ percent. Most beers fall in the 5 to 6 percent alcohol range.

5. I Can Drink Anything – Alcohol is alcohol. It doesn’t matter if the alcohol is in beer, wine, or spirits – it’s still alcohol. And alcohol, consumed in sufficient quantities, will make you drunk or impaired. Spirits range in alcohol by volume (ABV) content from about 35 to 60 percent. The ABV of some common spirits include: Vodka (35 to 50 percent), Everclear (75 to 95 percent), gin (37.5 percent), bourbon (51 to 59 percent), brandy (40 to 45 percent), rum (37.5 to 57 percent), whiskey (40 to 53.3 percent), and tequila (40 to 50 percent).

Drinking alcohol repeatedly in large quantities may result in alcohol dependence – where your body physically craves the alcohol and you continue drinking in order to satisfy the craving – or addiction, where you are unable to control your drinking and drink more and more often just to achieve the same results. People who say they can drink anything usually do – and do so to excess. These are people who are at increased risk of becoming alcoholics. Once you are an alcoholic, it isn’t something you can be cured of. When you become an alcoholic, your only hope is to go into treatment and learn to manage and live your life without alcohol.

6. I’m Perfectly Capable of Driving – How many times have you heard this phrase – or even uttered it yourself? The fact is that people who drink alcohol often don’t quit at just one cocktail, beer or glass of wine. They continue drinking far past the legal limit, many times to the point of actual intoxication. At the very least, many drinkers get in a car and drive, fully believing that they are perfectly capable of driving, when in actuality they are far from being able to exercise good judgment required to drive safely. Furthermore, their motor coordination is impaired, they are easily confused, may react with anger and hostility toward other drivers whom they mistakenly believe are a threat to them. When someone says they are perfectly capable of driving, get their keys and call a cab, or a friend who can take them home. Don’t get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Despite their protestations, they’re not only incapable of driving, they’re a danger to themselves and everyone on the road.

7. Hair of the Dog Prevents Hangovers – Wrong again. When you drink more of the same type of alcohol you consumed the night before, you’re not going to prevent a hangover, just delay it. As long as you continue to drink, the alcohol won’t have a snowball’s chance of dissipating in your bloodstream. It will just accumulate until, eventually, you start to sober up – and have a massive, head-pounding hangover (most likely with all the accompanying nastiness such as nausea, vomiting or dry heaves, ache all over feeling, and so on). What happens physically when you drink more the next morning is that you’re delaying the inevitable. Your liver is still trying to process the toxins remaining from the alcohol metabolism from the night before. So drinking more means your symptoms may seem to lessen at first, only to be more severe once your liver breaks down the alcohol – having even more toxins to deal with.

8. Drinking Black Coffee Sobers you Up – Popular in movies and TV sitcoms, the practice of serving black coffee to sober up a drunk is just a macho myth. Coffee contains caffeine – some brands more than others – and caffeine helps fight fatigue. Alcohol is a depressant, while caffeine is a stimulant. So, you wind up being a more alert drunk, but it doesn’t stop you from being drunk. The other point to note about drinking massive amounts of coffee is that when the effects of the caffeine wear off – and they will – you will be more tired than before. Caffeine helps lessen the severity of an immediate headache because it reduces the size of the blood vessels, which are swelled by alcohol. But coffee, like alcohol, is also a diuretic. This produces dehydration which can leave you with an even more severe hangover the next morning.

9. Eating Burnt Toast Allows you to Drink Longer – Here’s the macho picture: the drinker chomps down on burnt toast and washes it down with a Bloody Mary. Supposedly the carbon in the burnt toast acts like a charcoal filter to eliminate the effects of the alcohol or clean it from the bloodstream. Oh, if only it were so – but it isn’t. Charred or burnt toast is not activated charcoal, and, even if it were, activated charcoal – which is used to treat some types of poisoning – is not used to treat alcohol poisoning or hangovers. It certainly won’t allow you to drink longer without getting drunk.

10. Eating Greasy or Fried Foods Keeps you Sober – There’s a bit of truth to this one, but not the part about keeping you sober. If you drink too much, you’re going to get drunk, period. However, when you consume fried or greasy foods before you start drinking, it helps coat or stick to your stomach lining longer. Again, it won’t prevent you from getting drunk, but it will take longer for the bloodstream to absorb the alcohol. That doesn’t mean that you should ram down burgers and fries and then go out and get hammered, but eating prior to any alcohol consumption is a better idea than drinking without eating ahead of time. Some proponents of the greasy, fried food theory say that the practice prevents the dreaded hangover the next morning. There’s a little truth to this as well, since your body has longer to process the byproducts of alcohol, thus increasing your chances of feeling better than expected the next morning.

One caveat to this macho myth is to avoid eating greasy or fried foods after drinking. That will only irritate your stomach lining further – and may cause unpleasantness such as nausea and vomiting.

Heavy Drinkers are Heavy Drinkers – in Any Country

Americans certainly don’t have a lock on heavy drinking. In fact, according to anecdotal and other accounts of drinking in the United Kingdom, American and, indeed, all other countries, pale by comparison. Some say the British drink so much to overcome their natural reticence, although that could easily be considered an excuse to drink even more. England’s National Health Service (NHS) (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/alcohol/Pages/Drinkertypes.aspx) has identified nine types of heavy drinkers. These are men and women who regularly drink at least twice the daily guideline of 2 to 3 drinks for women and 3 to 4 drinks for men. Just look at any of these and you can see where macho drinking goes to extremes.

• De-stress drinkers – These are typically men who drink to calm themselves down and attempt to regain control of their lives. They may have high-pressure jobs or a lot of stress at home.

• Conformist drinkers – These individuals drink to become part of a group, to belong, or seek the structure of a group. Most often they are found regularly drinking in a pub (bar).

• Boredom drinkers – As the name implies, these individuals drink to escape the tediousness and boredom of daily life. They are mostly women, aged 35 to 50, who drink alone.

• Depressed drinkers – These drinkers’ lives are constantly in a state of crisis. They tend to drink heavily, drink at home and alone, and can be either gender, and any age or socioeconomic group.

• Re-bonding drinkers – This type of heavy drinker drinks most every evening, seeking release and stimulation. The re-bonding drinker seeks the comfort and presence of like-minded drinkers.

• Community drinkers – These heavy drinkers, men and women, feel a need to belong and drink in the company of other friendship drinkers.

• Hedonistic drinkers – These drinkers want to stand out from the crowd and often drink to get drunk three to four times a week. They tend to be divorced with adult children.

• Macho drinkers – These heavy drinkers, almost always men, have a very strong need to stand out from the crowd. Not only do they seem to live in the bar, but they want to gain release and control others through their drinking.

• Border dependents – These individuals drink fast and often. They tend to visit the bar regularly during the day and evening, weekdays and weekends included. They are unfulfilled, bored, and need to conform.

It doesn’t take too much scrutiny to see many U.S. drinkers in the above categories of heavy drinkers. We’ve all witnessed the type of behavior exhibited by men and women who regularly consume too much alcohol. Such macho-type behavior that American culture seems to not only condone but encourage is dangerous, particularly among adolescents, teens and young adults. The earlier a person starts drinking, the more likely they are to develop a problem with alcohol later.

It’s time to debunk macho myths and statements about alcohol once and for all – and to step up education on the prevention of problem drinking and effective treatment for alcoholism.