8 Facts About Drinking Alcohol

Enjoying a well earned beer after the long week
PeopleImages / Getty Images

Thanks to ongoing research on the effects of alcohol, we now know that there are many risks associated with drinking, including learning and memory problems, impaired driving, unintentional injuries, violence, unsafe sexual behavior, suicide attempts, overdoses, and addiction.

But there are many misguided beliefs about alcohol and alcohol use, some of which can interfere with you or someone you love recognizing the warnings signs of alcohol misuse and seeking help. By learning the facts about alcohol use, you can be better prepared to drink responsibly.

Everyone Reacts Differently

As with most things in life, different people react differently. Many factors affect a person's reaction to alcohol, including:

  • Body chemistry
  • Bodyweight
  • Metabolism
  • Sex
  • Tolerance level

Also, there may be various genetic factors that come into play as to how individuals react to drinking alcohol and whether they are vulnerable to addiction.

Age Doesn't Matter

Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) don't discriminate. Over the past two decades, there has been a steady rise in AUDs among those ages 65 and older. What's more, people with AUD who are middle-aged and older are at a significantly higher risk for suicide compared to their younger counterparts.

Binge Drinking Is Never Safe

Problem drinking isn't about what type of alcohol you drink, nor is it about on which days you drink. If you or someone you love is binge drinking every Friday and Saturday night, it could signal a problem with alcohol.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 g/dL. This typically occurs after four drinks for women and five drinks for men—in about two hours.

Binge drinking doesn't necessarily mean you have AUD. However, it can increase your risk of developing AUD later on. It is also associated with several short- and long-term physical and mental health effects. People who binge drink, even occasionally, have a greater risk of:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases (such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and liver disease)
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Unintentional injuries (such as car crashes, falls, and burns)

Binge drinking can also result in violent behavior, either towards yourself or others.

High Alcohol Tolerance Can Be Damaging

Alcohol tolerance is when drinking the same amount no longer produces the same level of buzz. Because your brain has adapted to the effects of alcohol, you need to drink more alcohol to achieve the same effects.

Higher tolerance can lead to higher levels of drinking, which can have negative health effects. Since alcohol affects multiple major organ systems, drinking in excess increases the possibility of health problems in all parts of the body. High tolerance also increases your risk for dependence and addiction.

Alcohol Is Not Safe for Pain Management

Alcohol can deliver a certain amount of relief by slowing down the brain and nervous system. That's why as many as 28% of people with chronic pain turn to alcohol to alleviate their pain.

But the amount of alcohol you'll need to drink to relieve chronic pain is likely more than the recommended guidelines for safe alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol may also make the pain worse. So if you have chronic pain, it's best to put down that drink.

If you or someone you love is drinking daily for pain relief, you'll also likely build up a tolerance, needing more to achieve the same pain-relieving effects. In addition, mixing alcohol and painkillers is downright dangerous, with possibly fatal consequences.

Beer Is Just as Intoxicating as Other Alcoholic Beverages

In the United States, one alcoholic or "standard" drink contains the same amount of alcohol—roughly 14 grams. So one 12-ounce can of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or one 1.5-ounce shot of liquor are all equally intoxicating.

As long as you're drinking them at the same speed, a bottle of beer will give you the same buzz as a shot of liquor.

Mixing Drink Types Won't Make Your Hangover Better or Worse

You've probably heard the old saying, "Beer before liquor never sicker; liquor before beer, you're in the clear." Or the phrase, "Beer before whiskey, always risky. Whiskey before beer, never fear." These well-worn phrases refer to the belief that you can avoid a hangover if you drink different alcoholic beverages in the "right" order.

But according to experts, it isn't the order in which you consume your drinks that matters. It's the amount of alcohol you drink. Your body can only process so much alcohol at a time. If you drink too much, you'll end up with a hangover.

Only Time Will Help You Sober Up

Contrary to popular belief, only time will sober you up. Your liver can only metabolize around one standard drink per hour. So while cold showers, hot coffee, and fresh air might feel a little refreshing to someone who has been drinking all night, none will make you sober.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cederbaum AI. Alcohol metabolism. Clin Liver Dis. 2012;16(4):667-85. doi:10.1016/j.cld.2012.08.002

  2. Han BH, Moore AA, Ferris R, Palamar JJ. Binge drinking among older adults in the United States, 2015 to 2017. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2019;67(10):2139-2144. doi:10.1111/jgs.16071

  3. Blow FC, Brockmann LM, Barry KL. Role of alcohol in late-life suicide. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004;28(5 Suppl):48S-56S. doi:10.1097/01.alc.0000127414.15000.83?

  4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Drinking levels defined.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking. Updated December 30, 2019.

  6. Riley JL 3rd, King C. Self-report of alcohol use for pain in a multi-ethnic community sample. J Pain. 2009;10(9):944-952. doi:10.1016/j.jpain.2009.03.005

  7. Zale EL, Maisto SA, Ditre JW. Interrelations between pain and alcohol: An integrative review. Clin Psychol Rev. 2015;37:57-71. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2015.02.005

  8. Holton AE, Gallagher P, Fahey T, Cousins G. Concurrent use of alcohol interactive medications and alcohol in older adults: a systematic review of prevalence and associated adverse outcomes. BMC Geriatr. 2017;17(1):148. doi:10.1186/s12877-017-0532-2

  9. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. What is a standard drink?.

  10. Köchling J, Geis B, Wirth S, Hensel KO. Grape or grain but never the twain? A randomized controlled multiarm matched-triplet crossover trial of beer and wine. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;109(2):345-352. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqy309