We’ve believed some pretty crazy things over the years about the effects of alcohol. During the Prohibition era, propagandists and slightly-addled scientists had much of the public believing that drinking alcohol caused your liver to weigh 25 pounds, that some wine was made with cockroaches, and that simply smelling alcohol while pregnant could cause severe birth defects.
Of course, time and science have proven these and other claims false. But that doesn’t mean that fewer myths about drinking exist today — they just sound a little more believable. Still, they can do more harm than good sometimes. Take a look at these seven myths to make sure you know what’s true before your next night out.
1. Drink liquor before beer; you’re in the clear
It’s the second half of a popular phrase that’s supposed to help you avoid losing your dinner when you’ve had one too many. In theory, it’s a fun rhyme, but in reality it’s nothing more than folklore. The order you drink different types of alcohol has very little to do with how sick or hungover you’ll get — that’s way more dependent on how much you’re actually consuming.
“The pattern, more often, is that people will have beer and then move on to liquor at the end of the night, and so they think it’s the liquor that made them sick,” Carlton K. Erickson, director of the Addiction Science Research and Education Center at the University of Texas College of Pharmacy, told The New York Times. “But simply mixing the two really has nothing to do with it.”
However, the reason this saying is so popular is because of the alcohol content. If you start with liquor at higher alcohol contents, pounding them one right after the other will make you feel more drunk than tossing back a few pints. As a result, you’re less likely to drink tons of beer afterward. If you’re pacing yourself instead of relying on your body to tell you how drunk you feel, you can drink in any order.
2. Darker drinks are better for you
It depends on your definition of “better.” Dark wines and beers tend to have more antioxidants than their lighter counterparts, but they’ve also got contaminants called congeners in them. Darker liquors like whiskey and rum also have them, and they’re essentially byproducts of the fermentation process that add color and flavor.
The problem with congeners, Health says, is that they’re harder to digest. As they bottleneck in your system, you’ll likely experience a hangover that’s much worse than if you had drunk the same amount of a lighter alcohol. According to a 2008 study, it also takes fewer dark drinks to get you to that same awful place the next morning.
3. Your soda mixer doesn’t matter
That friend you had back in college who swore that mixing Diet Coke with rum kept her sharp was severely misguided. In fact, she probably got more drunk than she would have if she had stuck with the original version of the soda, calories and all.
According to a study published in 2013, the difference is because artificial sweeteners in the diet sodas are digested by the body the same way that normal sugars are. Your breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) is affected by how much food is in your stomach, and the sugars in regular soda help to reduce that concentration. Diet soda, on the other hand, won’t do anything to help reduce the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream.
4. Taking an aspirin before you drink wards off a hangover
First things first: By the time you feel the effects of drinking too much, the aspirin you took ahead of time will have worn off. So not only is this a useless tactic, but taking painkillers at the wrong time can cause serious damage.
It’s especially important not to take aspirin or Ibuprofen while you’re still drinking. The combination of the drugs and alcohol will further irritate your stomach lining, cause your liver to become inflamed, and allow more alcohol into your bloodstream. In essence, taking it too soon will have the opposite effect you’re looking for. If you wake up the next morning with that nuisance day-after headache, however, aspirin is still your best bet to alleviate some of the more terrible symptoms.
5. Alcohol kills brain cells
This one you can probably credit to your grandmother or anyone sober who’s witnessed the antics of their drunk peers. But if you’re enjoying a social drink or two, you don’t have anything to worry about in this category.
Alcohol can be damaging to developing brains, which is why it’s a concern for unborn children and even for teenagers. But for adults, drinking alcohol doesn’t damage or kill entire cells. It does damage dendrites, The New York Times reports, which are the parts of neurons that help with learning and coordination. At most, it’s why drinking too much affects your ability to walk in a straight line or text a flawless message without typos.
Long-term drinking has other side effects that can ultimately lead to serious health concerns, but killing off brain cells isn’t one of them.
6. Eating afterward will stave off a hangover
If you know you’ve had a few too many drinks and want to ward off a hangover the next morning, you might think that reaching for some munchies or a slice of pizza will do the trick. But unfortunately, those measures are too little, too late.
If you want the effects of alcohol to be less noticeable, you need to eat before you start drinking. Having food in your stomach will slow down the process of absorbing the alcohol into your system. Eating afterward will do little to help that, since your liver is already processing the alcohol in your system. In fact, NPR says it could contribute to acid reflux, only serving to make you feel worse.
But if you think eating an enormous spaghetti dinner gives you the right to go crazy at the bar afterward, think again. Your food will get digested eventually, and nothing’s going to save you from the effects of shots once your stomach is left without the pasta, but full of liquor.
7. Coffee and a cold shower are the cure for any hangover
Both of these might be time-honored traditions from college, but they do very little to ease your pain aside from making you slightly less groggy. There are some tips for making a hangover feel less awful, but the truth is that your body needs time to process the alcohol you put into it.
A typical human body can process one standard drink per hour, meaning 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, and one-and-a-half ounces of liquor. If you went faster than that last night, your body — specifically your liver — is still trying to catch up. You can drink coffee to be a little more alert, and you can shower so you don’t feel quite as grungy. But for the rest, you’ll need to give it a few more hours.