How Sugar Blunts the Effects of Alcohol


Much as you love your craft beer and gin and tonics, you probably like to knock back a margarita or mudslide every now and again. (Probably more than you’d like to admit, too.) These saccharine beverages have an interesting side effect, though, according to a new study from the Research Society on Alcoholism: Sugar-laden alcohol mixers slow the absorption of alcohol in your bloodstream, essentially blunting your buzz. 

Researchers had 26 women (because, yes, they’re more inclined to order super-sweet drinks) around the age of 25 complete four test trials, each of which was separated by two days, at least.  

Participants drank a small amount of vodka mixed with water, aspartame (artificial sugar), or two different doses of sugar (15g and 50g). 

Researchers took the breath alcohol concentrations of each woman various times over a 3½-hour period. Over this timeframe, participants’ cognitive performance (tested via a 4-choice reaction time task), ratings of intoxication, willingness to drive a car, and more were measured and jotted down.

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Results demonstrated consuming alcohol with mixers with real sugar yielded lower breath alcohol concentrations than mixers made with artificial sweetener or no sweetener at all. 

Interestingly enough, a greater reduction was seen with the higher dose of sugar. Compared with alcohol mixed with water, alcohol diluted with a super-high sugar mixture (50g) dropped breath alcohol concentration by 37 percent. The moderately-high sugar mixture (15g) wasn’t as marked; it lowered levels by 8 percent. 

So, why is sugar diminishing your buzz? The authors believe adding sugar to alcoholic beverages significantly slows the rate of gastric emptying—the process where nutrients from your stomach pass into your upper intestine, which is where alcohol gets absorbed. In turn, this expedites how quickly alcohol metabolizes in your body, so less alcohol enters your bloodstream, they explained in a press release

Bottom line: Ultra-sugary cocktails and mixed drinks might not get you hammered, but that 50g of sugar? That’ll do a number on your physique. Our advice: Opt for simple drinks: liquor on the rocks, light beers, and non-fussy mixed drinks made with seltzer. Check out The Healthiest Drinks You Can Order at the Bar for more ideas.

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