Alcohol: How Sweet It Is

Alcohol with sugary mixers decreased breath alcohol concentrations, Griffith University research found.


Some people are more likely to drink cocktails--mixed drinks--than beer or straight liquor. And some people may restrict food intake or use artificial sweeteners as a calorie-cutting strategy. That could be a problem.

A study from Australia found that when women drink alcohol with sugary mixes they tested lower on breath alcohol concentrations than when they added artificial sweeteners or drank the liquor straight.

Alcohol on an empty stomach can be a problem. It is quickly absorbed into the blood stream and this can cause effects to happen faster. Women are generally more susceptible to alcohol's effects because of their smaller body mass compared to men, and this is why experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women--but allow two for men.

Christopher Irwin, PhD, is a dietitian and researcher at the Griffith University School of Allied Health Sciences in Queensland, Australia. Dr. Irwin led the study of 26 women, all of whom were around 25 years of age.

Each woman participated in a total of four trials, separated by at least two days. In each trial the women drank a small amount of vodka mixed with water. The artificial sweetener aspartame was included with the vodka in one trial, differing amounts of sugar were included in two trials, and in the fourth trial the alcohol was plain.

The researchers then sampled the women's breath alcohol concentrations (BrAC) over a three-and-a-half hour period. In addition, Dr. Irwin and the research team checked the women's cognitive performance, self-reported estimations of BrAC, self-reported estimation of intoxication and willingness to drive.

The researchers found that when women drank alcohol mixed with sugar their BrAC levels were lower than when they drank it with aspartame or water. A higher dose of sugar significantly lowered the BrAC compared to a lower dose.

The researchers speculated that the addition of sugar meant the alcohol was passed into the small intestine more slowly. This is the primary absorption site for alcohol. As a result, less alcohol entered the blood stream.

The study was published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.