Much of the conventional wisdom about alcohol and drinking is all wet. So says Dr. Scott Walters, professor of social and behavioral sciences at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the author of "Talking with College Students about Alcohol: Motivational Strategies for Reducing Abuse."
Keep clicking as Dr. Walters separates truth from fiction in 14 common beliefs about alcohol...
TRUE OR FALSE: Men can drink more than women without getting drunk
TRUE. In general, men can drink more without becoming intoxicated. That's because men tend to weigh more, which means that alcohol is less concentrated in the bloodstream. In addition, men's bodies tend to contain more water, pound for pound. This means that alcohol will be more dilute in a man's body.
A 140-pound woman who tries to "keep up" with a 180-pound man over several hours can reach a blood alcohol concentration that's two times higher.
TRUE OR FALSE: It takes a lot to make someone legally drunk
FALSE. When it comes to driving, legally drunk means having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher. How much alcohol it takes to reach that level depends not only how much alcohol has been consumed and how fast, but also the drinker's body weight and gender. So while a 160-pound man needs to drink about three standard drinks in an hour to reach the legal limit, a 130-pound women needs to drink only two drinks in an hour to reach the limit.
TRUE OR FALSE: Coffee can sober up someone who is drunk
FALSE. Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, nothing can be done to increase the rate at which the liver processes it (about one drink an hour). Coffee won't help, and neither will exercising or having a cold shower.
But coffee can give a potentially dangerous impression of feeling more sober - potentially dangerous because someone in such a state may assume that it's okay to drive.
TRUE OR FALSE: Eating beforehand lets you drink more without becoming drunk
TRUE. Alcohol mixed with food takes longer to absorb than alcohol consumed on an empty stomach. Some people find it helpful to eat a meal before going out for a night on the town. In addition to slowing the rate at which alcohol enters the bloodstream, eating before drinking might result in a full stomach that puts out fewer "fill me" signals.
TRUE OR FALSE: Some people are better at holding their alcohol
TRUE. But it's important to realize that the ability to hold your liquor - what doctors call tolerance - is about how intoxicated you feel, and not how intoxicated you actually are. And before you start bragging about your high alcohol tolerance, you should know that it's actually considered a major risk factor for alcoholism. That's because people who can drink a lot without feeling drunk tend to drink more than people with low alcohol tolerance.
TRUE OR FALSE: One drink doesn't affect driving ability
FALSE. Any amount of alcohol consumption before driving can affect performance behind the wheel. In fact, a recent study showed that having a single drink can significantly affect a person's driving ability.
TRUE OR FALSE: The "beer before liquor" saying has basis in fact
FALSE. The logic behind the saying "Beer before liquor, never sicker" is that it might be easier on your body to process weak alcoholic beverages (like beer) later in the evening. But hangovers are more dependent on the total amount of alcohol consumed, rather than the order of drinking.
People who mix different types of alcohol (like beer and liquor) tend to drink more, which can put them at risk of experiencing problems.
TRUE OR FALSE: Letting kids drink helps them avoid alcoholism later on
FALSE. Studies have shown that high school students who drink with their parents' permission are more likely to drink later on, not less likely - and this is especially true when youngsters are allowed to drink at home with friends.
On the flip side, the longer a young person delays drinking, the lower his/her risk for subsequent alcohol problems.
TRUE OR FALSE: Dark beer contains more alcohol
FALSE. A beer's color has little to do with its alcohol content. Color is determined mainly by the malt and other ingredients used in the recipe, and the length of the brewing process. Most beer contains 4 percent to 7 percent alcohol. Some dark beers, including Guinness stout, are on the low end of the alcohol content scale.
Credit: Flickr/Bernt Rostad
TRUE OR FALSE: The alcohol in hard liquor is more intoxicating
FALSE. Beer, wine, and liquor all contain the same kind of alcohol (ethanol). All things being equal, one standard drink should produce the same level of intoxication. But some people tend to drink more when drinking hard liquor or mixing different types of alcoholic beverages. And many cocktails contain far more alcohol than one standard drink.
Just what is a standard drink, anyway? It's 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or a mixed drink containing one shot of 80-proof liquor. Each standard drink contains half an ounce of ethanol.
TRUE OR FALSE: Alcohol destroys brain cells
FALSE. Alcohol doesn't actually kill brain cells. It affects the way brain cells communicate with one another. Still, chronic, heavy drinking can lead to neurological problems, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which causes severe problems with memory.
TRUE OR FALSE: Anyone who passes out from drinking should "sleep it off"
FALSE. People can continue to absorb alcohol even after passing out, and this can lead to a fatal overdose of alcohol. Some unfortunate people left to sleep after becoming drunk "aspirate" their own vomit and choke to death. So, it's important to stay with someone who might have had too much to drink, and not to assume that he/she will be fine after "sleeping it off."
If someone has seizures, slow or irregular breathing, or blue/pale skin - or you cannot wake him/her - call 911.
TRUE OR FALSE: Dark-hued beverages are more likely to cause a hangover
TRUE. In general, lighter-colored drinks like white wine and vodka produce fewer hangover effects.
TRUE OR FALSE: Alcoholism runs in families
TRUE. People who have blood relatives with a history of alcohol (or drug) problems are at higher risk themselves. The more numerous these relatives are and the closer the blood relationship, the higher the risk. The risk is even higher if the relatives who had the problems are of the same gender you are. Why is this? Scientists aren't sure. But it appears that a person's responsiveness to alcohol (tolerance) is at least partially hereditary.