The following findings reported in the May 22, 2006 issue of Digestive Disease Week indicate that you might want to be as concerned about the mixer in your drink as the amount of alcohol before you get behind the wheel:
When alcohol is mixed with beverages such as orange juice or soda, the rate of alcohol absorption into the blood stream depends not only on the individual, but also the "mixer." Researchers at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia analyzed alcoholic beverages mixed with diet or regular soda (with sucrose) to determine the rate of gastric emptying and blood alcohol response. They found that alcohol combined with sugar-free mixers were processed through the stomach and entered the blood stream much more quickly than alcohol with regular mixers.
Researchers analyzed eight male volunteers who consumed orange-flavored vodka beverages with both a diet mixer and regular mixer. Participants were monitored to track the rate at which the mixer was emptied from the stomach and their subsequent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels. From this study, the team discovered that the substitution of artificial sweeteners for sucrose in mixed alcoholic beverages may have a substantial effect on the rate of gastric emptying and the blood alcohol response. The time to empty half of the diet drink from the stomach was 21 minutes, compared to regular drinks which took 36 minutes for the same degree of emptying. Peak blood alcohol concentrations were substantially greater with diet drinks at an average of 0.05 percent, while regular drinks measured at 0.03 percent BAC.
"Today, more and more people are shifting personal preferences by choosing 'diet' drinks as a healthier alternative," said Chris Rayner, M.D., of Royal Adelaide Hospital and lead author of the study. "What people do not understand is the potential side effects that diet mixed alcoholic drinks may have on their body's response to alcohol."
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