Myths & Facts About Alcohol
Information about alcohol use, misuse, abuse and addiction or dependence is often shrouded in MYTHs and misperceptions. This is particularly the case when it comes to the drinking behavior of college students. Here are some of the common MYTHs and associated FACTs supported by research and evidenced-based practices.
MYTH: All college students drink and, when they drink, they drink to excess.
FACT: This MYTH is embedded in the misperception held by college students about how often and how much the "typical" student on their campus uses alcohol. In a 2009 survey (1),over 87,000 students on 117 campuses across the country indicated that nearly one-third (32.4%) of students on their campus drank on 10 to 19 days in the past 30 days, that only 2.9% never used alcohol and another 1.7% had used but not in the past 30 days. When asked: "How many drinks do you think the 'typical' student at your school had the last time he/she 'partied'/'socialized,'" the students said that 33.3% at their school drank 5 to 6 drinks and that 4.3% had no drinks. However, this perception of drinking is significantly different from the reality. In the same survey, data about frequency of actual use is substantially different (lower): 12.2% reported drinking on 10 to 19 days in the past 30 days; another 18.3% reported that they never used; and 12.9% reported that they drank, but not in the past 30 days. The amount used is also lower than the perception of typical use: 15.2% reported drinking 5 to 6 drinks the last time they partied/socialized and 24.6% reported no use. So, there are far more college students that do not drink than what is perceived and far fewer drink at risky levels than what is perceived. In other words, the perception is different from the norm.
Why is this important to you? To the extent that your attitudes and behaviors about your own drinking are shaped by your perceptions of the frequency and quantity of use by other students, those attitudes and behaviors will be misguided. The perception of use is over-estimated whether we are examining the frequency or quantity of drinking among college students.
MYTH: The pleasurable feeling (buzz) you get from a few drinks will be enhanced by having a few more drinks.
FACT: The effects of alcohol are biphasic. There is an initial euphoric (pleasant) feeling for most persons when their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) rises to about 0.05 % (volume of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood). Persons will often report a sense of well-being, relaxation, joyousness, talkativeness and increased socialization. As an example, 0.05% BAC is typically achieved in two hours of drinking by a healthy man weighing 170 pounds who has had three standard drinks and in two hours of drinking by a healthy woman weighing 130 pounds who has consumed two standard drinks. When the amount and duration of drinking produces a BAC over 0.05%, the person enters the next phase in which the effects of alcohol become more negative and may include impairments in balance, speech, vision, reaction time, judgment and self-control. The range and intensity of negative effects increases with the BAC and will result in more dangerous and risky consequences as BAC rises.
Why is this important to you? At about 0.05% BAC, most people will reach the point of diminishing returns on the potential pleasurable effects of alcohol. If you want to continue to feel good, but not risk harmful drinking, know what amount you can drink and over what time frame to stay close to the 0.05 % BAC limit. Check out these strategies to increase your likelihood of drinking more safely. (A cautionary note: some persons will hit the point of diminishing returns before reaching a BAC of 0.05 %. They need to stop earlier, or not use at all!)
MYTH: There is less alcohol in beer than in "hard liquor" (distilled spirits).
FACT: If you consume a "standard drink," there is one-half ounce of pure alcohol in a 12 ounce bottle of beer ( approx 5% alcohol), in a 5 ounce glass of wine (approx 12% alcohol), and in a drink containing 1.5 ounces of "80 proof" (approx 40% alcohol) of "hard liquor" such as vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, tequila (regardless of whether it is downed as a shot or mixed with non-alcoholic beverages). Often this MYTH is associated with the speed with which alcohol in the form of "hard liquor" produces the drunk feeling. If it hits you faster or harder, it may mean that you are drinking more than one standard drink and not realizing it. When students have been asked to measure out a quantity of liquid into a glass to simulate the pouring of what they consider to be one drink, they typically pour the equivalent of two to three standard drinks.
Why is this important to you? Your BAC is a function of the number of standard drinks that you consume over a given period of time. If you thought that you were drinking two shots or mixed drinks in two hours and it turned out to be four drinks, your BAC will rise and you will more quickly experience the drunk effects of alcohol rather than getting the buzz that you intended.
MYTH: It would be to my advantage if I could "hold my liquor."
FACT: People who can drink heavily without showing the signs of intoxication associated with a specific blood alcohol concentration (BAC) have probably developed a tolerance for alcohol. That means that they will need more to experience the desired effect. They "appear" to be sober while those around them of similar or greater weight are exhibiting signs of intoxication. So, what happens? They continue to drink in quest of that euphoric feeling, increasing their BAC and risk for harm.
Why is this important to you? Tolerance is a sign that your liver is working overtime to chemically break down the alcohol. This increase in liver activity will, over time, harm the liver. Tolerance also means that you are not experiencing the typical physical signs, such as poor coordination or balance or feeling nauseous and vomiting, that tell you that you have had enough to drink. Finally, tolerance may also mean you have gone beyond being a social drinker and may be developing a more serious problem with alcohol.
(1) American College Health Association. (2009). American College Health Association - National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Data Report. Linthicum, MD: American College Health Association. (View the Reference Group Data Report [pdf] through ACHA)