Many people chose diet soda mixers with their alcoholic drink, the aim being to consume fewer calories – few know that these drinks make you drunker more quickly, says a new study that will be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The authors revealed that people who drank alcohol with a diet mixer had a higher breath alcohol content (BrAC) than people who mixed adult beverages with non-diet mixers.

The investigators had 16 participants drink one type of three different drinks: Squirt and alcohol, diet squirt and alcohol, and a placebo beverage. All participants tried all drinks, each on a different day.

They set out to explore whether there were measurable differences between when a person drinks alcohol with an artificially sweetened mixer versus a sugar-sweetened mixer.

Then they calculated the BrAC using a breathalyzer and asked participants the following questions:

  • how drunk they felt
  • if they felt OK to drive
  • if they felt impaired
  • how tired they felt

The volunteers also completed a reaction time activity on a computer.

On average the diet drinkers had a peak BrAC level of 0.091g/210L, 18 percent higher than the sugary mixer group, which averaged 0.077g/210L.

Regardless of the documented numbers, the participants said they felt the same level of drunkenness when drinking the regular mixture as when drinking the diet mixture.

Lead author Cecile Marczinski, an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Ky., said:

“One of the key things we found was that even though (BrAC) peaked 18 percent 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.”

The authors note that BrAC is not to be confused with BAC (blood alcohol content). Both calculate how much alcohol is in a person’s blood, in the U.S. A BrAC is given to a person that is believed to be above the legal limit. If they have a high level they are then given a blood test to confirm their BAC.

For the current study, BrAC was used because it is less invasive.

The researchers suggest that because of the way the stomach breaks down sugary drinks like food items, a sugary mixer could slow the stomach from getting rid of its contents

Breaking down sugars allows the stomach to keep alcohol longer, preventing it from entering the bloodstream. Solid foods are known to decrease BACs, however the body isn’t familiar with breaking down diet sugars, therefore it sends the alcohol out immediately.

The authors warn that failing to eat before you drink alcohol and then combining your alcohol with a diet drink, could be a dangerous mix.

Additionally, a report published just yesterday, established that alcohol mixed with energy drinks is also a dangerous combination. Energy drinks, which contain caffeine, can mask the effect of intoxication, making us feel less drunk than we actually are.

In fact, drinking just one energy drink with alcohol may be equivalent to drinking a whole bottle of wine and several cups of coffee.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald