It's Australia's most widely used drug but many of us can't tell fact from fiction. Drinkers may be basing their drinking habits on misconceptions or out-dated beliefs, so here's a few sobering facts.
Myth 1: Coffee will help to sober you up.
Fact: Sobering up, or getting the alcohol out of your body, takes time. Just about 10% of alcohol leaves the body in breath, sweat and urine, but most is broken down by the liver. The liver can only get rid of about one standard drink per hour. Nothing can speed this up – not black coffee, cold showers, exercise or vomiting.
Myth 2: The worst thing that can happen if you drink too much alcohol is a hangover.
Fact: While the media often reports that small amounts of wine can be beneficial for your heart, there is little research to support these claims. There is sufficient evidence that ethanol - the chemical present in all alcoholic beverages - is a carcinogen (this falls into the same group as asbestos, arsenic and benzene). In other words, alcohol is a cause of cancer and any level of consumption increases the risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education's alcohol poll also found Australians have a low awareness of the long-term health conditions associated with alcohol. Fewer than half of Australians are aware of the link between alcohol misuse and stroke (38%), mouth and throat cancer (26%) and breast cancer (16%).
Myth 3: Drugs are a bigger problem than alcohol.
Fact: Despite the media attention on drugs, it is still legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco that cause most harm in the community. The total disease burden of alcohol - that is life lost from early death, as well as years of healthy life lost due to living with diseases or injuries caused by alcohol - is 4.6% and well as alcohol being responsible for almost one-third of road traffic injuries. On its own illicit drug use is responsible for 2.3% of Australia's disease burden. (AIHW 2016)
Myth 4: It's ok to drink while taking other drugs
Fact: Using alcohol at the same time as any other drug can be dangerous. This includes drinking alcohol while using prescribed medicines from the chemist or doctor. One drug can make the negative effects of the other even worse. Alcohol can also stop medicines from working properly. Mixing alcohol with other drugs that slow down the body (e.g. sleeping pills, heroin, cannabis, methadone, buprenorphine) can:
- make it harder to think clearly
- make it harder to properly control how you move
- stop your breathing and cause death
Myth 5: It's young people who drink the most.
Fact: This is not true. Research shows that the rates of underage drinking are decreasing. Data shows teenage drinking is at a new low, with 82% of 12-17 year olds abstaining from alcohol up from 72% in 2013.
However, rates of drinking are increasing in the older Australian adults with 24% of 55-64 year olds reporting they have never had alcohol down from 29% in 2015. Older Australians are also drinking slightly more with 42% of 55-64 year olds in 2017 reporting they drink weekly up from 36% in 2015.
Myth 6: Alcohol is not a drug.
Fact: Alcohol is often not thought of as a drug because it is legal, however, alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia and belongs to a class of drugs called depressants. Alcohol slows down the central nervous system and is second only to tobacco as a cause of drug related deaths and hospitalisations in Australia.
Myth 7: Different types of drinks can make you feel different drunk
Fact: No matter what the drink, alcohol is alcohol and the alcohol that is getting you drunk is ethanol. Scientists have looked at specific alcohol related beliefs called "expectancies". If you associate different types of alcoholic drinks with making you angry, sad or happy, then they are more likely to. As an example, if you have observed friends becoming a bit wild after drinking Tequila, and now you think Tequila makes you crazy, it may be because the Tequila was drunk in shots on a particularly large night out. On the other hand if you mostly drink wine with dinner you may associate and therefore expect wine to be a more calm and relaxed drink. If you believe that, it's more likely you will be calm and relaxed when you drink it.
Want to know whether your drinking habits are putting you at risk? Find out with the Your Room Risk Assessment