Some believe drinking on an empty stomach should increase the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol. However, scientists have not found evidence that eating while drinking improves short-term health outcomes.

Some people drink alcohol on an empty stomach. This may be because they have not found the time to eat before drinking. Others might believe that drinking on an empty stomach poses no additional alcohol-related risks.

This article looks at what happens when the body processes alcohol on an empty stomach. It also details the possible risks of drinking on an empty stomach, tips for doing so as safely as possible, and the signs of alcohol poisoning.

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The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) discusses how the body processes alcoholic drinks.

When someone consumes alcohol, it enters their bloodstream after passing through the stomach and intestines. After entering the bloodstream, the alcohol makes its way around the body’s different tissues and fluids. This process happens much faster than the rate at which the body metabolizes, or breaks down, the alcohol.

According to the NIAAA, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach speeds up the absorption of alcohol into the blood. This may be because the stomach and intestines are not busy digesting and absorbing food matter.

Drinking on an empty stomach increases the rate at which alcohol travels throughout the body. As a result, it should increase the rate at which someone reaches a potentially unsafe level of alcohol in their system.

According to a 2022 review, many government bodies and alcohol companies recommend eating food while drinking. However, there is little quality evidence that doing so has any effect on the short-term outcomes of alcohol consumption. In fact, advising people to eat while drinking may even encourage long-term alcohol consumption.

More generally, doctors have not produced much convincing evidence that drinking on an empty stomach carries specific risks.

According to the NIAAA, there are several methods by which people can drink in a safer way. Such methods may have similar protective effects for people who drink on an empty stomach. These tips include:

  • drinking in proportion to personal tolerance for alcohol
  • not drinking when taking certain drugs or medications, such as opioids
  • not drinking too much
  • not drinking too quickly

Individuals can also moderate or stop their drinking if they begin to notice signs of more significant alcohol-related impairments. These signs include:

  • memory problems
  • difficulty speaking
  • difficulty balancing or walking
  • increased aggression

Occasionally drinking small amounts of alcohol may not cause any serious complications. However, scientists know that alcohol can affect multiple organs around the body. With higher doses, these effects become more serious: alcohol poisoning or overdoses can be fatal.

According to the NIAA, the following are critical symptoms of an alcohol overdose:

  • confusion
  • stupor
  • difficulty remaining conscious
  • inability to wake up
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • slow breathing (roughly eight or fewer breaths per minute)
  • irregular breathing (at least 10 seconds between breaths)
  • slow heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • low body temperature
  • bluish skin color or paleness

Anyone with these symptoms needs urgent medical attention.

The following are answers to questions people frequently ask about drinking on an empty stomach.

Does drinking on an empty stomach cause vomiting?

Vomiting is a possible symptom of alcohol consumption. It can occur whether or not someone has eaten before or during drinking. Scientists have no solid evidence that this is more likely to occur on an empty stomach.

Will drinking on an empty stomach make someone drunk faster?

In theory, drinking on an empty stomach should increase the rate at which someone gets drunk. The thinking is that a lack of food in the stomach should make it easier for the body to absorb alcohol. However, it has proven difficult for scientists to find convincing evidence of this effect.

When someone drinks on an empty stomach, there is less food in their stomach and intestines. These organs are also responsible for moving alcohol into the bloodstream. As a result, it is reasonable to expect that drinking on an empty stomach would increase the rate of alcohol absorption.

However, scientists have not found good quality evidence to support this. Studies suggest that eating while drinking may not be much safer. Instead, it may make people feel more confident about drinking more.

Whether on an empty stomach or not, some simple tips can make alcohol consumption safer. These include not drinking too quickly, not drinking too much, and watching out for signs of intoxication.