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Drinking on an Empty vs Full Stomach

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Is it Bad to Drink Alcohol on an Empty Stomach?

Drinking a large amount of alcohol (2-3 drinks in a short amount of time) on an empty stomach is dangerous. It affects the way your body processes alcohol.

While having an alcoholic drink or two may not affect you, binge drinking on an empty stomach will significantly and rapidly raise your blood alcohol level. This can be dangerous and potentially cause unpleasant and toxic side effects. 

Here is what you need to know about drinking alcohol on an empty stomach compared to consuming alcohol on a full stomach.

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What Happens When You Drink on an Empty Stomach?

Binge drinking with little food in your system is not a smart idea. Consuming alcoholic beverages without food in your stomach can cause you to get drunk faster.

Alcohol affects your body in many ways. When you drink, your body has to absorb and break down the alcohol. Alcohol enters the blood mostly via your small intestine.14

It first absorbs in the veins that collect blood from your stomach and small intestine. Then the alcohol moves into your portal vein, which carries it to your liver.14

Once alcohol reaches your liver, enzymes — specifically, aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) — break it down.14

How long it takes for your body to metabolize alcohol depends on several factors, like your food intake.14

Other factors include how much alcohol you consumed, your height and weight, your gender, how hydrated you are, and more. 

However, it takes about an hour to metabolize a standard drink. A standard drink refers to a beverage with 14 grams of pure alcohol.

This can be found in:3

  • 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol content)
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (40% alcohol content)

Fizzy alcoholic drinks with a non-alcoholic mixer like soda water may hit you harder. The carbon dioxide in some mixed cocktails and champagne affects how you absorb alcohol.

Stronger alcoholic drinks are associated with a more rapid rise in your blood alcohol level.

When you drink on an empty stomach, your bloodstream absorbs alcohol much faster than when food is present. Having food in your stomach causes the alcohol to be absorbed more slowly. Without food in your stomach, your body goes through this metabolization process faster. This is especially true when you drink alcohol with 20 to 30% alcohol content.9

The alcohol reaches your blood more rapidly when you drink without food in your stomach. For example, if you drink a spirit of 40% alcohol without eating, you will feel it faster than if you drank a beer with 3 to 8% alcohol.

When alcohol reaches your stomach, upwards of 20% of it will be absorbed into your bloodstream. The other 80% of alcohol absorption goes through your small intestine.2

Risks of Drinking on an Empty Stomach 

Drinking on an empty stomach will cause your stomach to absorb alcohol much faster than drinking on a full stomach. Once alcohol goes through your body in this way, it can intensify all side effects and get you drunk much faster.

When you drink on an empty stomach, there are many potential risks, including:

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What to Do if You Get Alcohol Poisoning

Drinking too much on an empty stomach can lead to alcohol intoxication. Your body absorbs the alcohol much more rapidly and doesn't have the chance to break it down as quickly as you consume it. This leads to rapid rises in blood alcohol concentration.

If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of alcohol intoxication, seek emergency medical help. Do not try to treat alcohol poisoning on your own. Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening.13

Some common signs of alcohol poisoning include:11

  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of gag reflex
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty remaining conscious
  • Mental stupor
  • Seizures
  • Slow heart rate
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Pale skin
  • Low body temperature
  • Dulled or delayed responses

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How to Recover From Drinking on an Empty Stomach

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to recover from drinking on an empty stomach. Here is what you can do:

  • Drink water. Alcohol can make you sweat, urinate, or even vomit. All of these side effects cause dehydration. But drinking water can help. It can also replenish your body and flush out toxins.1
  • Eat food high in carbs. Eat bland, high-carbohydrate foods like bread, cereals, grains, or rice rather than complex or high-fat foods.
  • Replenish your electrolytes. You lose electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride when you drink. But sports drinks like Gatorade and Pedialyte can restore them. Foods and beverages like bouillon soup, bananas, and coconut water are also high in electrolytes.4, 7, 10
  • Take pain relievers. Pain relievers like Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help treat the symptoms of alcohol use like inflammation and achiness.1 Remember NSAIDs and aspirin are likely to cause increased stomach irritation. Be careful taking them if you already have an upset stomach.
  • Rest. The only way to recover from the toxic effects of alcohol is to wait. You need to relax and give your body time to finish processing the alcohol that you have consumed.1

While commonly advised, the following tips to recover from drinking too much alcohol are myths:

  • Eating food absorbs alcohol (not all food is good to eat after drinking)
  • Throwing up the alcohol is better for you than keeping it in (the risks outweigh the benefits if you are already confused and have a diminished gag reflex. In such cases, vomit could get stuck in your lungs, which would cause severe problems)
  • Coffee can sober you up (caffeine and alcohol are actually a dangerous duo. Caffeine can mask alcohol’s depressant effects, which may cause you to drink more than you otherwise would have)5

Again, if you suspect alcohol poisoning, do not try to recover on your own. Reach out to emergency medical help immediately.

Is Drinking on a Full Stomach Better?

Food intake is necessary to slow your alcohol absorption and lower your increased blood alcohol content after you've drank significant amounts of alcohol.

Food helps line your stomach before drinking to slow down your body’s rate of absorption. Food prevents the alcohol from quickly moving into your small intestine.

Some foods do a better job at this than others.

For example, carbohydrates can especially slow down the process. When you consume carbohydrates while drinking, your alcohol blood concentration does not increase as quickly. It may not reach even a quarter of what it would on an empty stomach.

Plus, carbohydrates like bread can raise your blood sugar to a normal level. This is ideal as drinking can lower your blood sugar.12 Any blood sugar that sits below 70 mg/dL (3.9 mmol/L) is deemed low and can be harmful to your health.8

Even if you drink on a full stomach, alcohol can cause short-term health effects. But consuming significant amounts of alcohol on an empty stomach increases your blood alcohol concentration much more rapidly. You may become seriously intoxicated too quickly and experience severe symptoms. They include:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Blurred vision
  • Disinhibition
  • Inability to speak coherently
  • Urge to speak
  • Poor memory
  • Decreased attention
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Flushed face
  • Reddened skin
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced responsiveness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of awareness
  • Risky sexual behaviors
  • Injuries (such as car crashes and drowning)
  • Decreased motor skills

If you drink too much alcohol, you might also have a hangover the following day. Hangovers can cause anxiety, depression, headaches, nausea, and general drowsiness. 

In summary, drinking on an empty stomach is a dangerous idea because it:

  1. Causes you to get drunk faster
  2. Speeds up the rate of alcohol absorption 
  3. Puts you at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning

Seek professional help. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, help is available. You do not need to navigate the road to recovery alone. 

Reach out to your doctor to discuss treatment options, which include:

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Updated on September 29, 2022
10 sources cited
  1. 7 Steps to Cure Your Hangover.” Harvard Health, 30 Aug. 2020.
  2. Alcohol and Your Body.” Student Health, Outreach & Promotion. UCSC.
  3. Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 Feb. 2021.
  4. Bananas.” The Nutrition Source, 6 July 2021.
  5. Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Caffeine and Energy Drinks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Feb. 2020.
  6. Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Feb. 2021. 
  7. Kacie Vavrek. “Is Coconut Water Healthy?Ohio State Medical Center, 27 Aug. 2019.
  8. Low Blood Sugar: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National
  9. "How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body?" Duke University
  10. "Alcohol Poisoning" National Health Service UK. 2019.

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