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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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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
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
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:
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
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to recover from drinking on an empty stomach. Here is what you can do:
While commonly advised, the following tips to recover from drinking too much alcohol are myths:
Again, if you suspect alcohol poisoning, do not try to recover on your own. Reach out to emergency medical help immediately.
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:
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:
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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