Diet soda mixed with alcohol may speed intoxication: study

Jordana Divon
Shine On
February 6, 2013

Just when you thought energy drinks were the worst mixers you could put in your alcoholic beverages…a new player is making the rounds: diet soda.

That's not to say energy drinks aren't up there with turpentine and paint thinner, but now it might be necessary to consider diet soda an evil worth giving up.

According to a new small study to be published in journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers found that opting for a Diet Mountain Dew and vodka instead of the regular, sugar-packed Dew increased breath alcohol control (BAC) levels by 18 per cent.

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"We are talking about significant differences here," says the study’s lead author Cecile Marczinski. "Participants who drank diet soda with vodka had blood alcohol contents as high as 18 per cent more than when sugar-containing mixers were used."

As Time magazine notes, that’s the rough equivalent to having an additional drink, a factor that can propel people over the unsafe driving limit without them even realizing it.

“One of the key things we found was that even though BAC peaked 18% higher in the diet condition, [participants] didn’t feel any more intoxicated and they didn’t feel any different as to how willing they were to drive a car,” says Marczinski.

Researchers at Northern Kentucky University sourced a pool of 16 young people who considered themselves “social drinkers” and submitted them to three different drinking sessions, which as far as scientific experiments go sounds like a pretty great one to sign up for.

The participants were either given a placebo drink, a diet Squirt with vodka, or a full-sugar Squirt with vodka.

As ABC reports, the vodka levels were calculated to match each person’s body weight in order to put them at the .08 American legal limit for drinking. In beverage terms, this roughly equates to four beers.

Participants who imbibed the diet soda and vodka combination showed the highest levels of intoxication.

Also see: When you eat more important than what you eat, claims study

The working theory so far is that sugar stimulates the stomach as though it had taken in a meal, tricking the body into thinking there’s food in the system causing a delay before the stomach empties its contents, including the alcohol, into the bloodstream.

Since diet drinks do not contain sugar (only a host of unpronounceable chemicals and carbonated water), the stomach doesn’t register food and therefore the alcohol takes a swift trip down bloodstream lane.

Marczinski suggests that in the battle between calories and unwitting intoxication, calories should win.

"In the long run, it's more harmful for your body to be exposed to a higher alcohol concentration than a few extra calories," she notes.

It’s probably also good to lay off the aspartame in general for the sake of your overall health.

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