Alcohol myths debunked

CATHERINE RODIE
Last updated 10:54 11/06/2014
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GRAPE AND GRAIN: We all know the old saying, but is it actually worth listening to?

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We probably all know at least a handful of booze related factoids. Little gems passed off as a truth or a warning; "Don't mix grape and grain!" or "Bubbles will go to your head!" But which myths should you pay attention to and which (like tequila) should you take with a pinch of salt?

'Gin makes you cry'

The idea that different types of alcohol can have different effects on us is definitely a myth says Ben Neumann, founder of Liquid Infusion, Australia's largest beverage catering company.

"It's the placebo effect if anything," he says. "Alcohol is alcohol and if the alcoholic content is the same, the effects are the same."

Dr Tina Lam, research fellow at the national drug research institute at Curtin University, agrees. "Our experiences are informed by our expectations," she says. "So crying when you drink gin is a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Lam adds that the "alcohol myopia effect" is a good way of explaining why alcohol changes our behaviour. "The idea is that when we're drunk our attention span is more limited. We can only focus on the most attention grabbing features of our environment," she says.

"It could be a person, or something we are feeling. If we're feeling upset and we zone in on that feeling, it could result in tears."

'Bubbles go to your head'

Neumann says in his experience it's true that bubbles go to your head. "We don't know why exactly, but it's believed to be about how the body digests carbonated drinks, which can include over 250 million bubbles in just one glass," he says.

Lam says it could be because different types of alcoholic beverages are absorbed differently. "In the lab, bubbles do tend to speed up the absorption of alcohol." However she says that there are individual variations to this.  

In terms of alcohol going to your head, Lam warns that the most important factors are the quantity of alcohol you drink and the speed at which you drink it.

'Don't mix your drinks'

Lam says more often than not the negative effects of "mixing your drinks" have more to do with the quantity you have had than the variety.

"It's like when you hear people say, 'It's that last shot of tequila I had that is making me feel so hung-over today'," she says. "But it probably wasn't the tequila per se. It was the 10 beers you had before the tequila.

"If you are mixing your drinks, you are more likely to be drinking a larger volume of alcohol." 

Neumann agrees: "Mixing your drinks won't play any effect on your hangover the next morning. It is all about the quantity of alcohol and how quickly it is consumed," he says.

However, he adds that mixing your drinks can sometimes lead to an upset stomach.

'A hair of the dog'

This myth refers to having an alcoholic chaser the morning after a big drinking session, Neumann says. "The idea is that a small a dose of alcohol can help to prolong the feeling of alcohol withdrawal," he says.

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Lam warns that "a hair of the dog" is not something she would recommend. "You're just delaying the inevitable," she says.

'Beer goggles'

There is actually some truth in "beer goggles" making others appear more attractive, Lam says. "In scientific experiments, ratings of facial attractiveness increased among participants who had been drinking alcohol," she explains.

Lam believes this could be connected to the "alcohol myopia effect", whereby a drunk person will focus on one thing, such a person's face or body.

Neumann warns that alcohol also affects our ability to make decisions. "It's not necessarily the case that we find the other person more attractive, it's that our normal reasoning process is impaired," he explains.

Rather than adhering to alcohol myths, the important thing to keep in mind is that the more you drink, the more likely you are to experience harmful effects, Lam says. She suggests limiting alcohol to no more than four standard drinks in a session.

Neumann says when it comes to drinking, it's important to find the right balance.

"Enough to enjoy the effects, but not so much that you lose control and feel unwell and do yourself damage.

"But myths aside, the only sure thing to avoid getting a massive hang-over is to drink less."

- Sydney Morning Herald

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