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Alcohol and Health

What Happens When You Drink Alcohol on an Empty Stomach?

July 20, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 20, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 20, 2023
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 20, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
July 20, 2023
8 min read

We've just clocked out after a strenuous workday, and our friends invite us for an impromptu catch-up over drinks. However, in the rush, we forget one crucial detail: we haven't had anything to eat since lunchtime. Amid the laughter, chatter, and clinking of glasses, we find that the alcohol hits us surprisingly quickly, and our evening of camaraderie soon takes a vertiginous turn.

Drinking on an empty stomach can lead to consequences that are far from enjoyable. Let’s discuss a few of them.

Swift Absorption

To understand the risks associated with drinking alcohol on an empty stomach, it's helpful to start with the alcohol absorption process. When we drink, alcohol is primarily absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine. If our stomach is empty when we start drinking, the alcohol doesn't have to compete with other food for absorption. It quickly finds its way into the bloodstream, leading to a rapid spike in blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This speedy absorption can lead to an intense and sudden feeling of intoxication, potentially paving the way for dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or even alcohol poisoning in extreme cases.

Cognitive Clouding

The swift and pronounced increase in BAC also impacts our cognitive functioning. This comes down to alcohol’s effects on the frontal lobe, responsible for decision-making, judgment, and self-control. Alcohol can impair the functioning of the frontal lobe, leading to poor judgment, lowered inhibitions, and risky behavior.

When we drink on an empty stomach and our BAC rises rapidly, these cognitive effects become more pronounced. We might find ourselves making decisions that we would usually avoid, leading to potential harm or embarrassment. This cognitive clouding is a serious concern, as it not only affects our immediate safety but also has longer-term consequences for our well-being.

Gut Damage

Another aspect of drinking on an empty stomach that deserves attention is its impact on our digestive system. Alcohol can irritate and inflame the stomach lining, a condition known as gastritis. Symptoms of gastritis include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and, in severe cases, bleeding.

When we drink on an empty stomach, our vulnerable stomach lining is directly exposed to alcohol (with no buffer of food), making it susceptible to irritation and inflammation. This can exacerbate the discomfort and potential harm caused by gastritis, turning our enjoyable drinking session into a gut-grief experience.


Alcohol is primarily metabolized in the liver. One substances needed for this process is glucose, our body's primary energy source. When we consume alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, the liver's resources are directed towards alcohol metabolism, potentially leading to a drop in blood glucose levels.

This condition, known as hypoglycemia, can manifest as weakness, shakiness, confusion, and in severe cases, seizures. For those with underlying health conditions like diabetes, hypoglycemia can have even more serious consequences. This is how drinking alcohol on an empty stomach not only intensifies the effects of alcohol — it also impacts our body's overall energy balance.

The Solution? Mindful Drinking!

So, having understood the risks associated with drinking on an empty stomach, how can we ensure we enjoy our beverages responsibly? One simple, effective strategy is to make sure we eat before we drink. Having food in the stomach slows down alcohol absorption, helping us stay in control and reducing the risk of negative side effects.

Eating nutrient-dense foods, particularly those rich in protein and healthy fats, can be especially beneficial as they take longer to digest. Additionally, sipping water alongside our alcoholic beverages can help us stay hydrated, further reducing the potential harm. Finally, we should also be mindful of how much we drink, as too much alcohol, even consumed alongside food, is detrimental to our health.

Remember, mindful drinking isn't about taking the fun out of our social gatherings; it's about making sure we enjoy these moments while prioritizing our health and well-being.

The Takeaways

While the invite for an impromptu catch-up over drinks can be tempting, it's essential to remember the potential consequences of drinking on an empty stomach. The adverse effects that can result from this practice highlight the importance of mindful and responsible drinking. By making sure we eat before we drink and staying hydrated, we can continue to occasionally enjoy our favorite beverages while keeping the vertigo, upset stomach, and confusion at bay. After all, understanding what happens in our bodies is the first step to navigating the complex world of alcohol consumption safely and mindfully.

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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