Why your mixer matters

Getting tipsy is more than just a simple equation of "Insert booze, receive stupid behavior". There's some complicated chemistry at work — especially when you begin to factor in the stuff you mix your alcohol into. For instance, the sugar in soda actually prevents your blood stream from absorbing as much alcohol as it otherwise would. Which means, as Allison Aubrey explains at NPR, your choice of mixer could be the difference between a blood alcohol level that is within legal limits and one that is most decidedly not.


    1. Yes — in that it doesn’t “fool” it, the breathalyzer just measures how much alcohol there is in your blood stream. Remember that the breathalyzer measures the alcohol in the air coming from your lungs (not your stomach). To get into your lungs, the alcohol had to first get into the bloodstream.

      If you drink more sugar and less alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, you will be less drunk, and the breathalyzer will confirm this fact. No fooling involved.

  1. I’ve often wondered what effect mixers have on alcohol absorption, so this sheds a little light on it. But I’ve also noticed that some people, particularly inexperienced drinkers (read: my friends and I in our early twenties) tend to drink more of a sweet drink, so even if the sugar mitigates the alcohol absorption somewhat there’s still more than enough alcohol consumed to cause tipsiness (read: my friends and I so blotto we’re face down on the floor drooling).

    1. The specific question here is comparing sugary mixers with fake sugar mixers, so the “sweet makes more alcohol go down” mechanism should be adequately controlled for.

  2. er … isn’t it simply better to not drink alkhol before driving?

    I can already feel the Florida State Trooper beating me with his pistol as I protest ‘I got confused – I thought it was full fat coke!’

    1. The whole point of determining the legal limit is to attempt to quantify when it’s ok to drive. If I had one beer three hours ago, we’d probably both agree that this won’t affect my driving. Well, this equates to a blood alcohol level that’s about a quarter of the legal limit.

      If two shots of vodka with several buckets of sugar also corresponds to a blood alcohol level that’s a quarter of the legal limit, then I’m just as safe to drive as the guy who had a beer three hours ago.

      1.  I’d always figured the legal limit to be the lowest BAC safeguard that could be implemented without incurring the wrath of the drinks lobby group and attendant popular voting backlash.

        Thing is, I never feel comfortable driving around Christmas, or on weekend evenings.  I’ve seen people swerving around the lanes etc – you know the score.  The thing about alcohol is it plays with desire, the ability to calculate, all the known things – and under many circumstances, people drink to impairment, no matter how minor that impairment might be.

        I get your point about beer vs vodka, and it’s probably accurate in a classroom setting.  But I find it odd that you’d run that through your mind – why not just not drink at all?

        Anyways, for fun I found this little guide to BAC limits – quite informative, especially as I live in the UK, where apparently we have one of the highest BACs in the world.

  3. They were measuring breath alcohol, and artificial sweetners are commonly sugar alcohols. A quick Googling suggests that sugar alcohols can register on a breathalizer. Could that be the only difference? The study participants even registered no difference in perceived impairment. It could be that there was none!

    1. Can you get drunk on sugar alcohols?  I go through a lot of “Splenda” (two to three packets a day, depending on how cold it is and how much tea I make for myself), and I’d guess your intestines and liver would fall out before you got drunk…

  4. Anyone who is TIPs trained knows that carbonation will excite your pyloric valve, thereby dumping the alchohol into your bloodstream much faster.

    So while sugar may impede the process, carbonation does the opposite.

    Do a shot and chug a soda.  You’ll feel more drunk than if you just had the shot.

  5. Now splain why the tiniest bit of alcohol added to soda will cause it to go instantly flat without even so much as a Mentos bomb.

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