• Cara Fielden

The truth about booze

There are a number of misconceptions out there about alcohol and its impact on us. Whether it’s keeping us warm on a winter’s night out, making us more chatty at the bar with friends, or helping us fall asleep when our mind is racing - there’s a lot of ideas out there about booze. But how much of this is true? And what impact does alcohol really have? Read on to bust those boozy myths.



Myth #1: Alcohol is a stimulant


Although it has stimulating effects including increasing heart rate, giving us energy, and decreasing our inhibitions, this idea is misleading and doesn’t show us the bigger picture. When we drink alcohol, we experience that ‘high’ feeling that many stimulant drugs give us. This is because it initially increases the dopamine in our brains, which is why many people consider the substance a stimulant rather than a depressant.


The main ingredient in alcohol, ethanol, is a depressant - which is why alcohol is classed primarily as a depressant substance. Depressant substances reduce arousal and stimulation - which can cause confusion due to the stimulating effects it has. But as a depressant, alcohol slows the central nervous system, affects concentration and coordination and slows down a person’s ability to respond in unexpected situations.


This does, however, explain why in small doses, alcohol can make us feel more relaxed and more comfortable in social situations. But after hitting the bars a little too hard, we can feel quite down - during or after drinking.


Myth #2: Alcohol helps us sleep


If you’ve ever had a Bailey’s before bed or a couple glasses of wine in the evening, you’ll probably have noticed that you’ve fallen asleep quickly, or quicker than usual. We all know that feeling after a heavy drinking social, coming home and it feels like you’re asleep before you’ve even hit the pillow! Why is that?


Well, alcohol has sedative properties, meaning initially it can aid in falling asleep quickly. Don’t let that fool you though, alcohol is not good for our sleep overall. It actually reduces our sleep quality and can cause a lot of disturbances throughout the night, leading to feeling very fatigued the next day.


The Sleep Foundation recommends having your last alcoholic beverage at least four hours before bedtime to reduce the risk of sleep disruptions.


Myth #3: Alcohol keeps you warm


Also known as a beer jacket or an alcohol blanket, many believe that alcohol can keep us toasty warm - but they would be wrong!


It’s a common misconception that when you drink, you stay warm, but actually what is happening is that the alcohol makes your blood vessels dilate, sending more blood to your skin. Whilst this makes us feel warmer, we’re actually losing our body heat to our environment faster!


So next time you opt to walk home from the pub without a coat, you may want to rethink…


Myth #4: Breaking the seal


You’re on your third drink, and you’re avoiding the bathroom at all costs. You don’t want to go, because once you go once, you’ll spend the rest of your evening peeing instead of socialising with friends: AKA, you don’t want to break the seal.


This is something we hear so many people referring to, but the big question: Is it a real thing or another alcohol myth?


Hate to burst your bubble, but breaking the seal is a myth! Research has found that it’s actually more of a mental thing - that when you get that idea in your head, it weighs on your mind and increases that urge to go more frequently than usual.


Alcohol is a diuretic, which basically means it makes the body produce more urine. So although you might feel the urge to pee more - whether that’s a real sensation or something you’ve convinced yourself of - it’s got nothing to do with your bladder not ‘sealing’ back up! It’s also recommended that you avoid holding it in, as this can cause health concerns such as UTIs.


Myth #5: Hair of the dog


This one might come as a bit of a shock - as we all know the old hair of the dog trick. Some people might even just carry on drinking after a night of drinking in hope that they’ll feel better tomorrow!


Amanda Beaver, wellness dietitian at Houston Methodist explains ‘While more alcohol may make you feel a little better in the moment, having another drink can actually prolong your hangover symptoms. In addition, some scientists think this myth may, over time, actually contribute to alcohol dependence’.


So next time you and your pals are gathered round sharing that dreaded hangover, maybe reach for a herbal tea over a G&T!


Bustin’ the booze: There you have it, some very common misconceptions about alcohol! Feel free to steal these tips and share them with friends on your next night out, why not spread the word eh? This doesn’t mean alcohol is bad altogether, just remind yourself that the things you hear about it aren’t always true! Make sure you always drink with caution and stay at a pace that’s right for you. And if you need any help or support in regards to alcohol, always seek medical advice from a professional.

 

References

Richer, J. (date unknown). Is Alcohol a Stimulant or Depressant? Footprints to Recovery. Available at: https://footprintstorecovery.com/blog/alcohol-stimulant-or-depressant/. [Accessed Nov 2022].

Brands B, Sproule B, Marshman J, Ontario. Addiction Research F. Drugs & drug abuse : a reference text. Toronto, Ont.: Addiction Research Foundation; 1998 [cited 2021 May].

Sleep Foundation (2022). Alcohol and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep#:~:text=Does%20Alcohol%20Help%20You%20Sleep,as%20liver%20enzymes%20metabolize%20alcohol. [Accessed Nov 2022].

Cleveland Clinic (2019). Having a Cold One Out in the Cold? 5 Safety Tips. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/having-a-cold-one-out-in-the-cold-5-safety-tips/#:~:text=1%3A%20Alcohol%20gives%20you%20a,heat%20out%20into%20the%20environment. [Accessed Nov 2022].

Martinez, K. (2019). Breaking the Seal: Drinking Myth or Fact? Healthine. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/breaking-the-seal#other-explanations. [Accessed Nov 2022].

McCallum, K. (2020). Hangover Cures: No, They’re Not Real – Here’s What to Try Instead. Houston Methodist. Available at: https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2020/dec/hangover-cures-no-they-are-not-real-here-is-what-to-try-instead/. [Accessed Nov 2022].



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