If you’re looking to shave a few pounds by mixing alcohol with diet soda, you could be trading your spare tire for faster intoxication, according to a new study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
People who drank diet mixed drinks not only had a higher breath alcohol concentration compared to the sugar-sweetened drink imbibers, but they were also oblivious to their more drunken state and had slower reaction times. So, in other words, all those diet rum and Cokes you’re drinking? They could make you think you’re perfectly capable of walking a straight line—while zigzagging across the parking lot to your car.
What’s the magic behind this “diet” effect? One word: food. When you eat solid food at the bar, say researchers, your stomach empties more slowly to give it time to churn the juicy hamburger and tasty wings into bits. This also slows down how quickly alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.
The stomach treats sugar-sweetened drinks in the same way as food, but diet drinks have a free pass to your intestines. This gives your blood a jolt of alcohol, which causes a spike in breath alcohol concentration and quicker intoxication.
While the volunteers in the study were drinking on an empty stomach (warning: definitely not the way to go), other research found that people who drank diet mixed drinks in a real bar also had higher breath alcohol concentration.
If you’re looking to shave a few calories, have your designated driver keep an eye on you if you’re hitting the diet mixers—or stick with sugar-sweetened soda and do a few more laps at the track.