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Updated on July 31, 2023
6 min read

Drinking on an Empty vs. Full Stomach

Social drinking allows people to enjoy alcohol without the intent to be intoxicated. But have you ever considered what are the best circumstances for drinking? Before you reach for your favorite beverage, it's crucial to ponder whether to drink on an empty or full stomach. 

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. Doing so 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. 

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Risks of Drinking Alcohol on an Empty Stomach 

Binge drinking with little food in your system can lead to faster intoxication. It can also lead to:

You may also suffer from these immediate health effects and behavioral changes:

  • Loss of coordination
  • Reduced responsiveness
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Dizziness
  • Poor memory
  • Decreased attention
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of awareness
  • Blurred vision
  • Disinhibition
  • Inability to speak coherently
  • Slurred speech
  • Urge to speak
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Flushed face
  • Reddened skin
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Risky sexual behaviors

How Does Your Body Process and Break Down Alcohol?

Alcohol affects your body through absorption and breakdown processes that ensue after drinking. Once consumed, alcohol enters the bloodstream primarily via the small intestine veins.

From there, it progresses to the portal vein, which carries it to the liver. The enzymes aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) and alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) then commence the breakdown of alcohol.14

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Factors Influencing the Rate of Alcohol Metabolism

It takes about an hour to metabolize a standard drink. These factors can impact how your body metabolizes alcohol:

  • Food intake
  • Amount of consumed alcohol
  • Height and weight
  • Gender
  • Hydration level

​​The Effects of Different Alcoholic Beverages and Mixers

A standard drink refers to a beverage with 14 grams of pure alcohol. You can find this 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. Additionally, stronger alcoholic drinks are associated with a more rapid rise in your blood alcohol level.

Rapid Alcohol Absorption with an Empty Stomach

Drinking on an empty stomach accelerates the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. The absence of food in your stomach speeds up the metabolization process of alcohol, mainly when consuming beverages with 20% to 30% alcohol content.9 

When alcohol reaches the stomach, your stomach lining swiftly absorbs approximately 20%, while the remaining 80% goes through your small intestine.2

In comparison, your body absorbs alcohol more slowly when food is present. For instance, you’ll feel the effects of a 40% alcohol spirit faster with an empty stomach than a 3% to 8% alcohol beer. 

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What to Do if You Get Alcohol Poisoning

Drinking too much without eating can cause alcohol intoxication. Your body absorbs alcohol faster than it can break down, leading to sudden spikes in blood alcohol concentration. 

If you notice signs of alcohol intoxication in yourself or someone else, seek immediate medical assistance, as alcohol poisoning can be fatal.13

Some common signs of alcohol poisoning include:11

  • Severe nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of a 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

How to Recover from Drinking on an Empty Stomach

To recover from drinking on an empty stomach, you may take on the following measures:

  • Drinking water: Alcohol can make you sweat, urinate, or vomit, potentially causing dehydration. Drinking water can prevent this, replenish your body, and flush out toxins.1
  • Eating food with carbs: Consume bland, high-carbohydrate foods, like bread, cereals, grains, or rice, rather than fatty foods.
  • Replenishing your electrolytes: You lose sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride when you drink. Sports drinks like Gatorade, Pedialyte, or even natural fruit juice, can restore them. Food and beverages like bouillon soup, bananas, and coconut water are also good sources of electrolytes.4,7,10
  • Taking pain relievers: Pain relievers, like aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help treat side effects of alcohol use, such as inflammation and achiness.1 However, NSAIDs and aspirin can increase stomach irritation, so be careful if you already have an upset stomach.
  • Resting: Recovery from alcohol's toxic effects requires rest. Take a break and let your body fully process the alcohol you ingested.1

Debunking Myths on Recovering from Post-Alcohol Consumption

While commonly advised, the following tips for recovering from drinking too much alcohol are myths. Here’s why:

  • 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’re 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 a dangerous duo. Caffeine can mask alcohol’s depressant effects, which may cause you to drink more than you otherwise would have.5

Again, seek emergency medical assistance immediately if you or someone you know shows signs of alcohol intoxication. Trying to self-treat alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening.

Is Drinking on a Full Stomach Better?

Food intake is necessary to slow the rate of alcohol absorption. It can help mitigate the increase in blood alcohol concentration after drinking significant amounts of alcohol.

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

The Role of Carbohydrates in Alcohol Absorption

Carbohydrates can significantly slow down the process of alcohol absorption. When you consume carbohydrates while drinking, your blood alcohol concentration doesn’t increase as quickly. It may not even reach a quarter of what it would on an empty stomach.

Moreover, carbohydrates like bread can raise your blood sugar to a normal level. This is ideal, as drinking can lower your blood sugar.8,12 

Treatment Options

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, help is available. You don’t need to navigate the road to recovery alone. 

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

Updated on July 31, 2023
10 sources cited
Updated on July 31, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. “7 Steps to Cure Your Hangover.” Harvard Medical School, 2023.
  2. Student Health Outreach & Promotion. Alcohol and Your Body.” University of California Santa Cruz, n.d.
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Alcohol Questions and Answers.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  4. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Bananas.” The Nutrition Source, 2021.
  5. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Caffeine and Energy Drinks.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.
  6. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. “Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. 
  7. Vavrek, K. “Is Coconut Water Healthy?” The Ohio State University-Wexner Medical Center, 2019.
  8. MedlinePlus. “Low Blood Sugar: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d.
  9. The Alcohol Pharmacology Education Partnership. “How is Alcohol Absorbed into the Body?" Duke University, n.d.
  10. "Alcohol Poisoning" National Health Service UK, 2023.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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