Diet-soda mixers can lead to quicker intoxication that higher calorie options, a new study shows.
While the study authors recognized that this information could lead to people ordering diet-soda mixed drinks in order to get drunk quicker, they say it is equally important for responsible consumers to be informed. Social drinkers who are also watching their calorie and sugar intake are also at risk for becoming intoxicated quicker than expected.
The new study, to be published in a future issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, found that mixing alcohol with diet soda “can dramatically increase breath-alcohol content (BAC) without increasing your awareness of being impaired.”
The reason is fairly simple: The sugar is regular soda needs to be digested by the body, so it takes longer to metabolize into the blood stream. Alcohol mixed with regular soda stays in the digestive system longer, and is metabolized slower. On the other hand, diet soda has no sugar. The body therefore immediately releases it, and the alcohol is immediately released into the bloodstream. Similarly, eating solid food while drinking significantly reduces BAC, by 20 to 57 percent
Smirnoff Red Label vodka was the alcohol of choice used for the study; Squirt — a lemon-lime drink with no caffeine — was the soda. A Diet Squirt with vodka cocktail increased BAC by 18 percent, researchers found. That is nearly as much as having an additional standard drink.
It is also enough to tip people from being under the legal limit to being unsafe to drive. And since it’s the same quantity of mixed drink, people often are tipped over the limit unawares.
“The stomach doesn’t recognize that it needs to do anything with that drink, because it has no sugar. It goes right to small intestine where the most alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream,” notes study author Cecile Marczinski.
“One of the key things we found was that even though BAC peaked percent higher in the diet condition, [participants] didn’t feel any more intoxicated and they didn’t feel any different as to how willing they were to drive a car,” says Marczinski, an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University.
The study — which judged people’s capacity to type while intoxicated — also found that people were often unaware that they were more intoxicated.
“They are more impaired on the computer task, measured both by reaction time and errors,” Marczinski says of those in the diet-drink group. “You shouldn’t trust your own judgment of impairment. In one case, the subjects were safe to drive and legal, and in the other case, they were not, but they had no idea.”
Bartenders and party hoses, for example, should to be aware of people who keep ordering diet-mixed drinks. Of course, they could just be asking for Diet Coke because they want to support Taylor Swift’s new endorsement. Hopefully, more people are Beyonce fans, asking for straight up Pepsi.
“I think people need to be aware of this,” adds Marczinski.