People have been drinking alcohol for millennia. But there’s still a lot of misinformation about alcohol and alcohol use disorder.

Father and son talking outdoors on treeShare on Pinterest
RyanJLane/Getty Images

It’s common for people to have a casual relationship with alcohol. However, this attitude may contribute to many myths about alcohol and alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder is a complex medical condition affecting the brain. It involves an inability to control your alcohol consumption, regardless of its negative effect on your life or health.

The traditional treatment approach for alcohol use disorder typically involves cutting out alcohol completely, including:

You may have heard myths about alcohol and alcohol use disorder presented as facts. While some myths might be more harmful than others, it’s essential to understand the realities of alcohol and alcohol use disorder.

Myth: Giving minors alcohol under supervision is responsible

A common myth around teens and young adults is that it’s more responsible to give minors alcoholic drinks with adult supervision. This myth is based on the idea that kids will drink anyway, so they might as well be in the presence of a responsible adult.

This is false, and research suggests the opposite.

An Australian longitudinal study conducted between 2010 and 2016 concluded that there was no evidence behind the idea that parents supplying underage children with alcohol reduces alcohol-related harms.

A 2015 study involving 561 students found that children who drank alcohol before sixth grade were more likely to abuse alcohol when they reached ninth grade.

The same study also notes that most students reported taking their first sip of alcohol at home, usually given to them by a parent.

Research from 2017 also suggests that kids who were allowed to drink alcohol with adults were more likely to engage in risky drinking in their teens.

Myth: Occasional drinkers don’t have alcohol problems

Alcohol use disorder isn’t the only alcohol-related condition that could cause harm.

Binge drinking, for example, doesn’t involve physical alcohol dependence. Still, it can be dangerous for the person drinking and those around them.

People who binge drink may only occasionally drink in excess. And while they may not necessarily have alcohol use disorder, regular binge drinking could lead to developing alcohol use disorder.

Myth: You can ‘sober up’ quickly

Many people may believe the myth that loading up on bread, heavy foods, or even drinking coffee will lower your blood alcohol level. The truth is that time passing is the only way for alcohol to wear off.

Alcohol can affect people differently. How quickly your body metabolizes alcohol can depend on:

  • age
  • weight
  • the last time you ate
  • medications
  • how fast you drank the alcohol
  • how much you drank
  • how healthy your liver is

Myth: Alcohol makes sex better

Even though alcohol can lower your inhibitions, it’s also considered a depressant. This means that alcohol can reduce sex drive and impact a person’s ability to maintain an erection.

There’s also a direct link between excessive drinking and the risk of committing sexual assault. Also, a person who is too intoxicated can’t consent to sexual activity.

Myth: It’s OK to drink and drive after only a few drinks

In most of the United States, your blood alcohol content (BAC) must be under 0.08% for you to legally drive.

Depending on how you metabolize alcohol, your BAC can reach this level after only one drink.

Myth: Older people don’t develop alcohol use disorder

People can develop alcohol use disorder at any age. Not everyone who starts drinking at a young age will necessarily develop the condition.

As you age, you may be more likely to take medication that could enhance the effects of alcohol. There also may be a higher likelihood for older people to have mental health conditions that may contribute to excess drinking.

Myth: You can drink and remain in control

You don’t necessarily need to be drunk for alcohol to affect your decision making abilities. And when your ability to make decisions is impaired, you’re no longer in control.

Myth: Drinking can help with chronic pain

You may think that drinking can help alleviate pain, but evidence suggests that chronic drinking can worsen pain levels.

And if you’re taking medication for your pain, there could be drug interaction risks. Taking acetaminophen with alcohol, for instance, increases your risk of liver failure.

Myth: People with alcohol use disorder usually have fewer life resources

Anyone can develop alcohol use disorder, regardless of personal circumstances such as:

  • housing
  • employment
  • education
  • socioeconomic status

People with higher socioeconomic status may be more likely even to drink more than people from under-resourced communities.

A 2019 study of alcohol use in England found that people in professional managerial jobs had more occasions to drink than manual workers, casual workers, and unemployed people. Homeownership was also a strong predictor of alcohol consumption, according to the study.

However, a review of studies published from 2013 to 2019 suggests that people with lower socioeconomic status may be more likely to die from alcohol use disorder.

Myth: A person with strong willpower is less likely to develop alcohol use disorder

Alcohol use disorder has nothing to do with willpower. You’re not weak or less than if you have this condition.

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that cannot be overcome with willpower alone. However, willpower can be a strong tool for those in recovery from substance use disorder.

Myth: You can still occasionally drink while in recovery

One nontraditional form of treatment for alcohol use disorder is moderation management. This approach involves limiting alcohol consumption, specifically for people who aren’t physically dependent on alcohol.

However, there’s limited research showing the efficacy of this form of treatment. Evidence also shows that continuing to drink in moderation while in recovery may heighten your cravings for alcohol.

Critics of moderation management note that this form of treatment may encourage denial in people with alcohol use disorder, which may delay seeking more effective treatment.

If you think you may have alcohol use disorder or a related problem, such as binge drinking, you’re not alone.

People may often avoid seeking treatment because of the stigma associated with these conditions. However, treatment is within reach.

When you find the right tools and support for you, it’s possible to recover from alcohol use disorder. For ways to seek support, you can visit Psych Central’s guide to mental health help.