Common Misconceptions About Alcohol
Common Myths About Alcohol
Alcohol is certainly a commonly used substance, as more than 133 million people in the U.S. aged 12 and older consumed alcohol in 2021.1 Given its prevalence, it’s important to note its potential negative effects, which range from alcohol use disorders and organ damage to neurological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular issues,
That said, a handful of diseases have been erroneously associated with alcohol use, and/or the direct impact of alcohol on these conditions has been exaggerated. While heavy or chronic drinking are never recommended, misleading associations are also problematic, as they can potentially prevent people from identifying the true cause of their conditions and seeking the proper treatment. What’s more, over-dramatizing the effects of alcohol on certain diseases can stigmatize these conditions—and those who suffer from them.
To set the record straight on some common misconceptions about alcohol, the following content explores the true impact of alcohol consumption on four medical issues—alcoholic nose (i.e., rhinophyma), gout, kidney stones, and ulcers—and touches on a couple of oft-asked questions.
Does Alcohol Lead to Alcoholic Nose?
Alcohol doesn’t cause alcoholic nose, despite the condition’s stigmatizing moniker. In fact, alcoholic nose is a misleading term for rhinophyma, which is a rare and highly developed form of that affects the nose.2
Rhinophyma is characterized by the following conditions:3
- A large, bulbous nose shape.
- Pitted and/or scarred skin.
- Spider veins (i.e., telangiectasias).
- Reddish color.
Most often found in those 50 to 70 years of age, rhinophyma occurs more in men than women. While the cause of rhinophyma is unknown, it involves blood vessel dilation, i.e., a widening of the blood vessels that results in increased blood flow. It’s thought that the erroneous association between alcohol and rhinophyma originally came about due to the fact that alcohol can also cause blood vessel dilation, which can worsen rhinophyma symptoms.3
The physical characteristics of rhinophyma can significantly erode a person’s self-confidence and psychological well-being, particularly due to the condition’s mistaken association with alcohol use.4
Furthermore, terms such as “alcohol abuse,” “alcoholic,” and “alcoholic nose” are outdated and can create a negative bias, suggesting that these conditions are a type of character flaw or moral failing as opposed to medical conditions. “Alcohol misuse,” “someone with an alcohol use disorder,” and “rhinophyma” are more current and less stigmatizing terms.
Does Alcohol Cause Gout?
Gout is caused by a condition called hyperuricemia, which basically means there’s too much uric acid in the body.5 When uric acid builds up, it forms needle-shaped crystals in and around joints, which then lead to soft tissue inflammation and arthritis. Alcohol, along with a host of other genetic and environmental factors, can contribute to a buildup of uric acid. So to say alcohol causes gout is a bit of a stretch, but it’s among a long list of factors that can contribute to the condition.6
So what is gout?
Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis that typically causes joint pain and swelling. Gout often starts in a big toe or lower limb, but it can affect various joints, bursae (i.e., the cushions between bones and soft tissues), tendon sheaths, kidneys, and more.6
Symptoms of gout tend to come and go in flares and remissions. Flares typically last for one or two weeks before they resolve. Remissions, during which people are typically symptom free, can occur periodically throughout the year. However some people are in remission for years.6
If gout is left untreated, flares typically last longer and occur more frequently, and, more rarely, a condition called tophaceous gout can develop. In this late state of gout, masses known as tophi can begin to develop as uric acid crystals build up subcutaneously and in various parts of the body, potentially causing permanent damage to joints and certain internal organs.6
There are several risk factors for developing gout, including:6
- Family history of gout.
- A diet high in purines (e.g., red meat, products made with high fructose corn syrup, etc.)
- Drinking alcohol.
- Obesity, being overweight.
- Metabolic syndrome (i.e., a group of conditions that include high blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels).
- Chronic kidney disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Conditions that lead to rapid cell turnover (e.g., some cancers, hemolytic anemia, psoriasis, etc.).
- Rare metabolic conditions (Kelley-Seegmiller syndrome and Lesch-Nyhan syndrome) that can lead to dysregulated urate levels.
- Medications/supplements (e.g., diuretics, low-dose aspirin, niacin, cyclosporine).
Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones?
In a word, no, drinking alcohol doesn’t directly lead to kidney stones. While alcohol is associated with various health problems that are risk factors for kidney stone formation—e.g., diabetes, obesity, and kidney injury, fibrosis, and inflammation—there’s no strong correlation between kidney stones and alcohol consumption.7
Kidney stones are hard, pebble-like deposits of material that form in the kidneys. Most commonly, they’re caused by high levels of calcium, oxalate, and phosphorous in urine.8 As small as a grain of sand and as large as a golf ball (which is rare), kidney stones are typically brown or yellowish in color, and their surfaces can be jagged or smooth.9
Sometimes kidney stones move through the urinary tract undetected and cause no pain. However, others can get stuck, causing pain and/or bleeding.9 Symptoms of kidney stones include:8
- Blood in urine.
- Constant need to urinate.
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine.
- Sharp pains in the groin, lower abdomen, back, and/or side.
- Pain while urinating.
- Inability to urinate, or limited ability to pass urine.
Can Alcohol Cause Ulcers?
No clear association exists between alcohol consumption and peptic ulcers.10 However, like several of the aforementioned conditions, alcohol is linked to various gastrointestinal symptoms as well as risk factors associated with ulcers.
Peptic ulcers are sores in the stomach lining or the first section of the small intestine (aka duodenum).10 They typically cause symptoms of indigestion such as:11
- Feeling full too soon while eating or uncomfortably full after eating.
- Pain or discomfort between the belly button and breastbone.
Ulcers are caused by a host of factors, but helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most common causes.11 Other causes include:11
- Infections caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
- Medicines (e.g., corticosteroids, some antidepressants, and medicines used to treat low bone mass).
- Surgical procedures, injury, blockage, and/or blood flow issues that impact the duodenum or stomach.
- Crohn’s disease.
- Chronic diseases (e.g., cirrhosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.)
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.
Note, however, that excessive amounts of alcohol can lead to acute erosive gastropathy, where the stomach lining develops ulcers, erosions, and bleeding.12,13 Additionally, alcohol-involved gastritis is strongly associated with an active H. pylori infection.13
Is There a Cure for Alcoholism?
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), alcoholism (a stigmatizing label for alcohol addiction) is a treatable, chronic medical condition characterized by complex interactions between genetics, brain circuits, the environment, and an individual’s unique life experiences.14 So there is no cure for addiction, just as there aren’t cures for many other chronic medical conditions—e.g., type 1 diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and asthma.
However, addiction can certainly be treated, allowing people to counteract the condition’s effects on the brain and their behavior and enabling them to regain control of their lives.15 In fact, treatment for addiction is typically just as successful as treatment for other chronic diseases.14
Is It Safe to Drink Rubbing Alcohol?
The short answer is no. Rubbing alcohol is toxic and not meant for human consumption.16
Alcoholic beverages are mainly made of water and ethanol (ethyl alcohol) with beer at 3-8% ethanol, wine at 11-14% ethanol, and spirits at at least 30% ethanol.17,18 However, rubbing alcohol typically comprises water and about 70% isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) or denatured alcohol, both of which are toxins used in antifreeze, disinfectants, cleaning solvents, and more.17,18,19
Drinking rubbing alcohol as a substitute for beverages containing alcohol will make you sick and can be very dangerous and even fatal. The toxic effects of isopropanol include: central nervous depression, brain damage, and liver, kidney, and cardiovascular depression. It can also cause drowsiness, ataxia (i.e., loss of coordination and muscle control), stupor, coma, gastric hemorrhage, vomiting, pancreatitis, tachycardia, and more. Denatured alcohol contains ethanol mixed with any number of foul smelling and tasting additives and toxic chemicals (including isopropanol) that can harm the body.16,18
Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
The aforementioned information debunks common myths about alcohol and its impact on various conditions. However, alcohol consumption is associated with real and dangerous effects. Thus, if you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol misuse, treatment is critical to both physical and mental health.
Since treatment for alcohol misuse should be geared to the unique needs of each individual, several treatment options are available including:
- Inpatient care.
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs).
- Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs).
- Outpatient care.
- Aftercare/sober living (e.g., Oxford Houses, halfway houses).
If you or your loved one is ready to embrace sobriety, American Addiction Centers can help. With treatment centers scattered across the U.S., AAC offers all of the aforementioned care plus special programs for unique populations (e.g., Veterans, members of the LGBTQ+ population, etc.). Contact AAC at to explore treatment options, verify your insurance/explore other payment options, and take your first steps toward recovery today.