Can’t sleep without a nightcap?
You may associate alcohol with good times and celebrations, but there is often a fine line between a happy hour and a tragedy. Every year, around 3.3 million deaths occur worldwide as a direct result of alcohol abuse, according to the World Health Organization.
While a glass of red wine with dinner is enjoyable and pretty harmless, you’ll want to avoid misusing or abusing alcohol. Here are five myths about alcohol that may be putting you at risk.
MYTH: Brandy fights off a cold.
REALITY: Alcohol can have the opposite effect because it weakens the immune system. It might help you not feel the cold’s symptoms, but it’s not “curing” the cold and may interrupt the body’s natural defense system, making your coughs and sniffles last even longer. Oh, and don’t forget the possibility that alcohol may interfere with any medications you may be taking for the sickness. (Here are safer and more effective ways to treat the common cold.)
MYTH: Alcohol helps you sleep.
REALITY: Yeah, a nightcap can help you pass out in no time—nobody can argue with that. However, your quality of sleep will suffer. During the second half of the night, alcohol will likely leave you tossing about and not reaching that all-important REM sleep (the deepest stage of sleep), according to the National Sleep Foundation. This is why you often feel a little groggy, “out of it,” and restless the morning after a night of drinks, even if you slept a full eight hours. (Learn more rules for better sleep here.)
MYTH: Alcohol keeps you warm.
REALITY: Quite the opposite: Imbibing might make you lose heat. Drinking reduces the body’s ability to maintain a stable body temperature, partly because the body is preserving energy by slowing down metabolism. You may feel warm from that margarita, even while experiencing hypothermia, making it even more important to use caution and dress appropriately during cold months.
MYTH: As long as you build up a tolerance, you can safely drink three or more drinks at a time.
REALITY: Alcohol’s effects may be less pronounced in you, but that doesn’t make it safe. Being able to drink significantly more than your friends without showing signs of intoxication is a sign of a drinking problem, and you’ll likely end up drinking even more to feel the “effect.” All that alcohol can be bad news for your liver and other organs—not to mention the excess of calories that can affect your weight.
MYTH: Alcohol can help numb pain.
REALITY: While a nice scotch may reduce the pain in the moment, this is not a good pain management tactic. First of all, you’ll likely need multiple drinks to numb your back pain successfully, which will increase your tolerance and force you to need even more to get the same relief. (See myth #4.) Developing a dependence on alcohol can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, which may make you even more sensitive to pain, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Finally, alcohol and painkillers are a dangerous combo and should not be mixed. (Find more information about common OTC painkillers here.)
Alcohol. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2015. (Accessed on October 4, 2017 at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs349/en/.)
Alcohol's effect on sleep. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on October 4, 2017 at https://sleep.org/articles/alcohols-effect-on-sleep/.)
Duyff RL. Complete food & nutrition guide. 5th ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.
Myths about drinking alcohol. Bethesda, MD: U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2016. (Accessed on October 4, 2017 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000856.htm.)
Spiers DE. Thermoregulation and alcohol. In: Watson RR editor. Alcohol and hormones. Drug and Alcohol Abuse Reviews, vol 6. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press; 1995.
What happens when you drink? Washington, DC: International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, (Accessed on October 4, 2017 at http://www.responsibledrinking.org/what-happens-when-you-drink/true-or-false-myths-about-drinking/.)