How Drunk Am I? 9 Weird Reasons You Can Get Tipsy Too Quickly
Studies show that these seemingly random factors can affect how alcohol takes its toll on your body and brain.
You mixed your drink with diet soda
Your blood alcohol level will spike faster if your cocktail contains diet soda compared to regular soda, according to a small study recently published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. In two different sessions, study participants drank the equivalent of three to four mixed drinks in a short period of time. When they drank vodka mixed with regular soda, their peak blood alcohol level measured 0.077, just under the legal limit of 0.08. But when they drank vodka mixed with diet soda? Their blood alcohol measured 0.091. Their perception was altered, too: After drinking diet drinks, people performed statistically worse on computer tests compared to how they did after sipping the regular version, even though they reported no noticeable change in how they felt or performed. Exactly why this occurs is not fully understood, but the stomach may treat sugar-sweetened beverages like food, which delays the stomach from emptying. “The best way to think about these effects is that sugar-sweetened alcohol mixers slow down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream,” explains Dennis L. Thombs, PhD, professor and chair of the department of behavioral and community health at UNT Health Science Center. “Artificially sweetened alcohol mixers do not really elevate alcohol intoxication. Rather, the lack of sugar simply allows the rate of alcohol absorption to occur without hindrance.”
You chose a curvy glass
How well you “pace yourself” during a cocktail party may have to do with your glass. Study participants drank twice as slowly when their lager was in a typical “straight-sided” glass compared to when it was an angled “beer flute,” researchers at the University of Bristol report in PLOS One. “People often talk of ‘pacing themselves’ when drinking alcohol as a means of controlling levels of drunkenness, and I think the important point to take from our research is that the ability to pace effectively may be compromised when drinking from certain types of glasses,” says lead study author Angela S. Attwood, PhD, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychological Science at England’s University of Bristol. Check out how you can get drunk without taking a sip of alcohol.
You liked how your drink tasted
Flavor itself can affect behavior. When you want a drink, just a small taste of it can activate your brain’s “more, please!” reward system and trigger the desire to drink more. In recent studies at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, researchers gave a group of men just a half-ounce of low-alcohol beer, their drink of choice. Based on the beer flavor, the subjects reported an increased desire to drink more than compared to when they sipped Gatorade. The findings appear in Neuropsychopharmacology. The study authors say that this is the first research to demonstrate that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone can trigger reward centers in the brain. On the other hand, beer may confer some surprising health benefits.
You’re eating low-fat or fat-free foods
It’s no secret that imbibing on an empty stomach makes your drink go to your head (literally) faster. But even eating low-fat or fat-free foods can alter how drunk you get. Foods with a higher fat content take more time to leave the stomach and can slow the rate at which your body absorbs the alcohol from your digestive tract, says Dan Valentine, PhD, vice president of clinical services at the Laguna Treatment Hospital, part of American Addiction Centers, in Aliso Viejo, California. If you can, opt for those bar nuts—a great source of healthy, unsaturated fat—over the low-fat pretzels. Whatever you do, “don’t forget to eat,” he says.
You drank on your new medication
Many medications have side effects, and some can intensify the effects of alcohol, Valentine says. It’s not just prescription medications either. Many over-the-counter drugs, as well as natural supplements, may also have this effect. Talk to your doctor about everything you take to see if and how alcohol interacts with these medications. Even if your Rx doesn’t interact with alcohol, medicines that affect the brain can still make you feel more intoxicated. There may be other unexpected consequences as well. Many people take vitamins, minerals, and other supplements daily to improve our health and well-being—but taking certain pills together can create a dangerous mix. Here are the combos you should avoid.
You don’t weigh as much as your fellow revelers
Of course, your size would affect how quickly you absorb alcohol—picture a petite sorority sister versus a hulky male linebacker. “Bodyweight determines the amount of space through which alcohol can diffuse in the body,” report medical experts at Stanford University. “In general, a person who weighs 180 pounds will have a lower blood alcohol concentration than a 140-pound person who drank the same amount.”
You are a woman
Alcohol is metabolized at a different rate in women than it is in men, according to Stanford University. This is due to general differences in body composition. Studies have also shown that women have fewer of the enzymes used to metabolize alcohol than men do (alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase).
You’re seriously dehydrated
Dehydration can increase the effects of alcohol, Valentine says. “If you have just come from exercising and haven’t hydrated after or during your workout and have a cocktail, you will get drunk quicker,” he says. Here’s how to tell if you are dehydrated.
You’ve had weight-loss surgery
If you have had gastric bypass surgery and consume alcohol, you may get drunk faster and take longer to sober up. Stanford University researchers conducted a small study, in which they gave 5 ounces of red wine to 19 post-operative gastric bypass patients and 17 controls. They were told to polish off the drink in 15 minutes. The people who had weight-loss surgery reached a peak blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent (the legal limit) while the control group reached only 0.05 percent. They reported their findings in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
- Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research:"Artificial Sweeteners Versus Regular Mixers Increase Breath Alcohol Concentrations in Male and Female Social Drinkers."
- Neuropsychopharmacology: "Beer Flavor Provokes Striatal Dopamine Release in Male Drinkers: Mediation By Family History of Alcoholism."
- Dan Valentine, PhD, vice president of clinical services, Laguna Treatment Hospital, part of American Addiction Centers, Aliso Viejo, CA.
- Stanford University: "Factors That Affect How Alcohol is Absorbed & Metabolized."
- Journal of the American College of Surgeons: "Impaired Alcohol Metabolism after Gastric Bypass Surgery: A Case-Crossover Trial."