Effects of Alcohol – Why You Shouldn’t Drink on an Empty Stomach

Written by: Captain Skellett // November 9th, 2009 // How Things Work, Poisons

Everyone knows you’re supposed to eat something “to line the stomach” before you hit the town, but why is that?

Alcohol is pretty volatile, around 5% of what you drink is expelled through the lungs. It’s why you can smell alcohol on someone’s breath, and it’s how breath testers work. Breathalysers just take advantage of the fact that there is a constant ratio of 1:2300 between the amount of alcohol exhaled and blood alcohol level.

The rest of the alcohol is broken down in a three step process.

1. Alcohol dehydrogenase converts alcohol to acetadehyde with the help of coenzyme NAD. This is the rate-limiting step in the metabolism of alcohol, and the reason you can only metabolise about one standard drink an hour.

2. Aldehyde dehydrogenase converts the aldehyde to acetic acid (vinegar.)

3. Acetic acid is broken down into carbon dioxide and water, releasing energy. This energy, along with the molecules of NADH that are produced along the way, is the reason alcohol is high in calories.

This be a rare example of zero-order metabolism, meaning that it doesn’t get faster when there’s more alcohol. It’s probably due to the small amount of enzyme (or the coenzyme) in that first step becoming saturated after only a small amount of alcohol.

So why do they say you shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach? It all comes back to that nifty enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase. 85% of the metabolism happens in the liver (that be why liver disease is common ‘mongst alcoholics) and 15% happens in the stomach where the enzyme is present in the lining. It breaks down the alcohol before it can even enter your bloodstream!

Drinking anything on an empty stomach causes rapid gastric emptying, reducing the time the alcohol is exposed to the alcohol dehydrogenase in your stomach lining. Rapid emptying means that the alcohol hits your bloodstream faster and in greater concentration, resulting in a state of inebriation that is more ass than class.

Women have about 50% less gastric alcohol dehydrogenase than men, one of three reasons that women have higher blood alcohol levels than men after the same number of drinks. The other two being that men have more muscle, which has lots of blood vessels giving the alcohol more space to dilute in, and women have more body fat, which does not soak up alcohol and therefore concentrates it in the blood.

So ’tis true indeed that you should eat well before a night of drinking. I myself have conducted extensive experiments on this matter (in the name of science), and never have I been drunker than at my pirate-themed 21st, which I attribute to my skipping dinner that night. Although the two for one cocktail hour probably didn’t help.

Captain Skellett

I be Captain Skellett. Me blog started in April 2009 when I was working full time and didn’t get a chance to talk science. Now I have changed jobs and talk science all the time, but that doesn’t stop me blogging. More About Captain Skellett   Google


9 Responses to “Effects of Alcohol – Why You Shouldn’t Drink on an Empty Stomach”

  1. Kamal Salih says:

    The photo of stomach be is realy a piece of art

  2. mark says:

    Great writing, well done!

  3. Jaff says:

    I always thought it was better to drink in an empty stomach, so that if I drank too much, there’s nothing to throw out, turns out an empty stomach’s the cause of me drunk in the first place.

    Rose Reply:


    Well your really dumb so im not surprised…

    None of your business >. Reply:

    @Rose, So you consider yourself to be smart? Don’t flatter yourself.

  4. nakliyat says:

    Great writing, well done!


    today i was surprised that with just one beer i was drunk then i realized that it must have been my empty stomach that did the trick.

  6. tiffany says:

    I’m drinking vodka. and all I had was a hunny bun. lets hope I don’t get sick

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