Alcohol and diet soda may be a bad mix
February 5th, 2013
04:04 PM ET

Alcohol and diet soda may be a bad mix

Saving calories at the bar may not be a good thing.

Researchers gave college students vodka drinks with regular soda and with diet soda, and the diet soda group got more intoxicated, faster - about 20%  more intoxicated than those who mixed regular soda with liquor, according to research published Tuesday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Sugar in your mixed drink actually slows down the effects of alcohol, researchers say.

The study
Though it was a very small study, only eight women and eight men, the findings closely match previous research linking diet drinks and increased alcohol levels in the body.

Scientists at Northern Kentucky University asked students who were social drinkers to come to their lab on separate days to test the effects of alcohol. During one visit, the students drank vodka with diet soda and at another session they mixed the vodka with a sugar-sweetened soft drink. Each beverage had the potency of about four mixed drinks, a dose that has been shown to raise blood alcohol levels to about the legal driving limit. At each visit, the students downed their drink in about 10 minutes.

The results
Using breath tests to measure alcohol levels, researchers found that students who drank vodka and regular soda registered just under the legal limit. But drinking the vodka-diet soda mixture tipped students over the limit.

"What you choose to mix your alcohol with could possibly be the difference between breaking or not breaking the law," says study author Cecile Marczinski, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Science at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky.

The students also completed computer tasks testing their reaction times, mimicking what they might face while driving. Those drinking the diet soda were slower to react.

But the students said they felt the same no matter what they drank, even though tests showed the diet drinkers were about one-fifth more intoxicated. To put that in perspective, you'd have to add almost a whole other shot of vodka to the sugar-sweetened drink to equal the potency of the diet drink mixture.

"The subjects were unaware of this difference, as measured by various subjective ratings including feelings of intoxication, impairment, and willingness to drive," says Marczinski.

Another study measuring alcohol levels in people leaving bars or night clubs also found that diet soda/liquor drinkers were more impaired.

"Marczinski's findings are very consistent with what we've found in the field in a natural drinking environment. When the mixer is diet soda, the bar patrons tend to have somewhat higher intoxication levels than when they consume regular soda," says Dennis Thombs, professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health, School of Public Health at the University of North Texas in Fort Worth.

People often mix diet soda and alcohol to save on calories. And women make this choice more than men. But Marczinski says it's not worth the trade-offs."It's much more harmful to the brain, to your liver, if you have a higher blood alcohol level. A few extra calories is not going to make that much difference (in your weight)," says Marczinski. In her study, students drinking the diet mixture only reduced their calorie count by 130.

What's the buzz?
Why do people get more intoxicated when they go for diet instead of regular soda with their booze? It has to do with digestion. The diet soda mixture passes quickly through the stomach, putting alcohol into our bloodstream faster.

That's not the case with regular soda and liquor. Experts say the stomach treats this combination as if it's food. Digestion slows everything down, delaying the release of alcohol into our system, and spreading it out over a longer period of time.

Take home
"I think the takeaway from this study is, don't trust your judgment about intoxication levels, you may be off," says Marczinski. "And many times people think they're safe to drive and they are in fact not."

soundoff (746 Responses)
  1. Jordan

    I fail to see the downside 🙂

    February 5, 2013 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mike

      Working towards the fish, bread, and water diet. PERIOD it's not a game, the dream is real. But I'll still need a glass of wine once and a while... Careful grape farmers... very careful... people like me are not messing around. We know the ones to stay away from but even the good guys at times must wear a mask.

      February 6, 2013 at 03:44 | Report abuse |
    • rick

      fish, bread and water?

      February 6, 2013 at 08:05 | Report abuse |
    • MC

      Sounds more like a nut diet.

      February 6, 2013 at 18:57 | Report abuse |
  2. antiquity

    Wow. Save calories AND get drunk faster? No college students would be interested in that combination.

    February 5, 2013 at 16:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jrad

      I was thinking the same thing! How is that a bad mix?

      February 5, 2013 at 17:42 | Report abuse |
    • Drunk_RightNow

      Yeah... How the hell is that a bad mix ? Wish I knew this earlier...Works out cheaper too for the evening....

      February 5, 2013 at 23:46 | Report abuse |
  3. Billy P-Funk

    Diet soda and booze is like ordering a burger & fries with a diet soda to drink; you're doing your fat self any favors. I used to know a fat lush who drank rum & Diet Coke...blech!

    February 5, 2013 at 17:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billy P-Funk

      *not doing your fat self any favors.

      February 5, 2013 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • arizonabay

      Fewer calories are fewer calories and less sugar is less sugar. If you're going to have the burger and fries, it does do you good to forgo the sugary soda. For 32 oz, it does you 310 calories of good - or about a 30 minute jog.

      Clearly the best caloric option is to not have a burger and fries or to not drink alcoholic beverages, but to say that it does no good is simply bad math.

      February 5, 2013 at 19:17 | Report abuse |
    • drinker75

      An oz of vodka is 65 calories, 8 oz of soda has around a 100 calories plus high fructose corn syrup. You are saving quite a few calories by forgoing the regular soda so you would be wrong in your example. I personally mix my vodka with club soda.

      February 5, 2013 at 20:24 | Report abuse |
    • Halli

      arizona, there are questionable safety issues with artificial sweeteners, which are suspected to help cause ailments like metabolic syndrome. While I rarely drink soda, when I do I'd far rather have the sugar (though wish it wasn't HFCS) than trust artificial sweeteners.

      February 6, 2013 at 10:27 | Report abuse |
  4. Linda Luttrell

    I would think all the sugar and any sweet-tasting liquors would make the drinker nauseated quicker...you cut calories whereyou can!

    February 5, 2013 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Curtis

    Now that's what I call some seriously good journalism! Thanks, CNN!!

    February 5, 2013 at 19:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Brenda

    They've said this before. Old news.

    February 5, 2013 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Bill

    Awesome, Not only do you get drunker faster, but you save money on drinks while outside drinking, At home you can save on alcohol cost. When you use less shots to make a drink with diet soda and get intoxicated faster. Also, get over a hangover faster since it goes thru your system faster. While saving calories and sugar intake, which turns to fat.

    February 5, 2013 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eddie

      All good points except for the hangover part, it will not contribute to a faster hangover recovery because it only speeds up the absorption process, so once it does make it into your body it is all a level playing field for your body to metabolize the alcohol. It may even increase the severity of a hangover because you will be more intoxicated, but a good way to avoid hangovers is to be sure to drink lots of water on the nights when you are out drinking because the symptoms of a hangover are partly, if not all due to dehydration.

      February 6, 2013 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  8. Bash

    This story came out in 2007 I think.

    February 5, 2013 at 19:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. jarrod brown

    vodka and coke .... disgusting

    February 5, 2013 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Abbey

      Yes, it is terrible unless it's vanilla vodka and diet coke – tastes like cream soda. The best diet drink is Captain Morgan's and Diet Coke. Mmmm. Arrrrrr!

      February 5, 2013 at 21:38 | Report abuse |
    • Drunk_RightNow

      Vodka and Cranberry juice .... Elixir it is...

      February 5, 2013 at 23:49 | Report abuse |
  10. Tim

    I wonder if kids will use this as a suggestion and not a warning.

    February 5, 2013 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jay in Florida

    The study is quite dumb. If sugar is what slows down the absorption of alcohol in the body, then consuming alcohol with diet sodas is just as responsible for getting drunk, as consuming the alcoholic beverage WITHOUT a soda at all. What a discovery!!!!!!

    February 5, 2013 at 20:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      Except carbonation also increase the rate at which the alcohol is absorbed into the body.

      February 6, 2013 at 00:43 | Report abuse |
  12. yo!

    Thanks for the tip. I will try it.

    February 5, 2013 at 20:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. axel Segura

    The study was made on 8 people. What was it, a party?

    February 5, 2013 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Adam

      It was at N.Kentucky Univ. what do you expect?

      February 5, 2013 at 21:48 | Report abuse |
  14. empresstrudy

    Yes because above everything else, drinkers of cheap booze and diet soda are trying NOT to drunk. Of course.

    February 5, 2013 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Meh

    And to think, Ive been wasting all that time by giving blood before a night of session drinking.
    All I had to do was order a diet coke instead.

    February 5, 2013 at 20:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Smarter than ewe

    Perhaps the breathalizer reacting differently to the soda should be the story here by allowing drunk people a free pass to drive?

    February 5, 2013 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ADC

    Who cares....the study is so small and soda sucks.

    February 5, 2013 at 20:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Eric

    You don't save the 130 calories in 1 drink, you save it 1,000s of times you have a drink. 3500 calories in 1 lb of fat. Every 27 or so drinks that is 1 lb. So 2 drinks on Friday and Saturday for a full year equates to about 8 lbs of fat. To a college kid, 2 drinks a night is nothing.

    February 5, 2013 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Halli

      There are questionable safety issues with artificial sweeteners, which are suspected to contribute to causing ailments like metabolic syndrome, which causes the body to retain weight rather than lose, among other issues. Not worth it at all IMO to trust artificial sweeteners. While I rarely drink soda, when I do I’d far rather have the sugar (though wish it wasn’t HFCS).

      February 6, 2013 at 10:33 | Report abuse |
  19. linda123

    Which is why I drink my Wild Turkey on the rocks.

    February 5, 2013 at 21:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. lerianis

    You know, why don't they just cut the alcohol out of these beverages. We have way to do it that are not very expensive AND are easy to do.

    February 5, 2013 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Homer

    Thanks for the article. Time to buy diet mixers. Get drunk quicker and lose weight. A win win.

    February 5, 2013 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. gwen111

    8 people does not make a study.....

    February 5, 2013 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Kimberly

    16 people study.. 8 women & 8 men. Yes it was very small but still informative IMO.

    February 5, 2013 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Eric

    Maybe people who drink diet are just light weights in general. Can't handle calories, booze, or drugs... Or really life in general.

    February 5, 2013 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jorge

      Or maybe they're diabetic, or just thirsty people who don't want sugary drinks to turn them into pudgy slobs with bad teeth.

      February 6, 2013 at 08:45 | Report abuse |
  25. Tyrone Biggums

    Great to know. Diet if I want to get drunker. Regular if I want to take it slow.

    February 5, 2013 at 22:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Ben

    SIXTEEN PEOPLE. Thats the number of people they tried it on. CNN should not be publishing any results that aren't statistically proven.

    Im sure i can keep picking 16 random people and test them for all sorts of things. Statistically i'll find a random group that leans in one direction. Maybe then i'll get posted by CNN

    February 5, 2013 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. shrinktofit

    Since I'm likely to be one of the few people who wouldn't think of polluting a perfectly good shot of whiskey with anything beyond an ice cube, this new knowledge is a non-starter.

    February 5, 2013 at 23:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. jeri

    In order to avoid consuming HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (due to allergic reaction) I always mixed either Diet Sprite or Diet Tonic with Vodka. Very interesting study...

    February 6, 2013 at 00:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. someguy


    February 6, 2013 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Psych1

    Oh people... it is 16 participants. When you use a within-subjects design, you don't need as many participants because they are compared to themselves. And it was STATISTICALLY proven. Read the article itself. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acer.12039/abstract;jsessionid=6330BA350FA1B2233F9B39C607503DC3.d04t01

    February 6, 2013 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Steve

    The difference in druckedness the study is talking about has to be measured with a breath-a-lizer, it's that little. I drink rum with any type of Cokes that happen to be around, diet or regular, and I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I can't tell one difference in how quickly or how much I get drunk. Even the study says the students couldn't tell a difference. Another worthless study picked up by 24 hour media that has to fill the pages with something. If anything, the study just endorsed diet drinks as the choice for mixes.

    February 6, 2013 at 03:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. george ohwell

    Thanks for that important information. Now every frat boy will know how to get blitzed as fast as possible.

    February 6, 2013 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Jorge

    This is good information to know, next time I'll just take my booze STRAIGHT UP.

    February 6, 2013 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. sam

    With Alcohol costing Society in the usa $ 280 Billion a year in death,disease,accidents,suicides,murders,rapes,child and spousal abuse,I would venture to say its Not the DIET SODA nor is it PASSIVE SMOKE

    February 6, 2013 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. sam

    And why is it There is no such thing as a Liite Cigarette but they have LIITE BEER ? hmmmmmmmmmmmmm

    February 6, 2013 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Joe

    I'll drink to that....

    February 6, 2013 at 10:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Cat

    Oh Good, for a second there I thought I was going to have to stop drinking my beer and Coke Zero – Whew! Dodged a bullet there!!!!

    February 6, 2013 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Luna V.

    Reblogged this on lunarmelody and commented:
    This is very good to know. I started using diet soda as my mixer when I began my lowered calorie diet. I didn't know it would make it easier for alcohol to get into my blood. I guess it back to regular ol' Coca Cola. 🙂 Be good to your brains and livers kids.

    February 6, 2013 at 11:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Berry Punch

    What if you just mix alcohol with water?

    February 6, 2013 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Martin Martinez

    Alcohol the downfall of humanity.

    February 6, 2013 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Rob

    I'd love to read the toxicology study on this combination.

    February 6, 2013 at 13:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Gene

    Y'all do remember the study that concluded that artificial sweeteners contributes to diabetes, don't ya?

    February 6, 2013 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Inderpal

    People drink to get intoxicated. If having diet soda speeds up the intoxication, then thats exactly what i want. Why would i consume extra calories in regular soda along with having to drink another alcohol drink (more calories) to be intoxicated at the same level.

    February 6, 2013 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. yeo

    Northern Kentucky University are the most smart scientologists in the world. They do smart, important work and are smart. Go Kentucky. Screw Obama! Long live Kentucky.

    February 7, 2013 at 00:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Liam Rubel

    Whether it is diet soda or alcohol both are bad for weight loss. So opting for for both may be a bad choice. If you are on a diet than avoid both.

    February 7, 2013 at 02:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Amy

    Wine is better anyways.

    February 7, 2013 at 03:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. SixDegrees

    A study done with 8 people and using breath testing to measure BAC? How many ways can I spell "worthless"? Why does anyone bother reporting "research" like this?

    February 7, 2013 at 05:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. R.D.

    I prefer my martinis sugar free. I remember my collage years, drinking high sugar drinks like long island ice teas or hurricanes are really asking for a massive hangover. I opt for the sugar free, drink early and let it wear off before leaving the club.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. thynker

    what about drinking straight up vodka, where does that stand?...if diet soda is more intoxicated then regular, would drinking straight up vodka be more intoxicated? so what is your answer writer???

    February 7, 2013 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. jj

    Aspartame is very bad for the stomach. Avoid diet soda altogether. For diabetics, maybe a little wine would be OK but not mixed drinks.

    February 15, 2013 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
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