Absorption and Peak Blood Alcohol Concentration After Drinking Beer, Wine, or Spirits

Authors

  • Mack C. Mitchell Jr.,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas
    • Reprint requests: Mack C. Mitchell, Jr., MD, Professor and Vice-Chairman of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern, 5323 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, TX 75390-9309; Tel.: 214-648-5036; Fax: 214-648-6358; E-mail: Mack.Mitchell@utsouthwestern.edu

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  • Erin L. Teigen,

    1. ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Vijay A. Ramchandani

    1. Section on Human Psychopharmacology, Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Maryland
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Abstract

Background

Both the amount and the rate of absorption of ethanol (EtOH) from alcoholic beverages are key determinants of the peak blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and exposure of organs other than gut and liver. Previous studies suggest EtOH is absorbed more rapidly in the fasting than in the postprandial state. The concentration of EtOH and the type of beverage may determine gastric emptying/absorption of EtOH.

Methods

The pharmacokinetics of EtOH were measured in 15 healthy men after consumption of 0.5 g of EtOH/kg body weight. During this 3-session crossover study, subjects consumed in separate sessions, beer (5.1% v/v), white wine (12.5% v/v), or vodka/tonic (20% v/v) over 20 minutes following an overnight fast. BAC was measured by gas chromatography at multiple points after consumption.

Results

Peak BAC (Cmax) was significantly higher (p < 0.001) after vodka/tonic (77.4 ± 17.0 mg/dl) than after wine (61.7 ± 10.8 mg/dl) or beer (50.3 ± 9.8 mg/dl) and was significantly higher (p < 0.001) after wine than beer. The time to Cmax occurred significantly earlier (p < 0.01) after vodka/tonic (36 ± 10 minutes) compared to wine (54 ± 14 minutes) or beer (62 ± 23 minutes). Six subjects exceeded a Cmax of 80 mg/dl after vodka/tonic, but none exceeded this limit after beer or wine. The area under the concentration–time curve (AUC) was significantly greater after drinking vodka/tonic (p < 0.001) than after wine or beer. Comparison of AUCs indicated the relative bioavailability of EtOH was lower after drinking beer.

Conclusions

Findings indicate that BAC is higher after drinking vodka/tonic than beer or wine after fasting. A binge pattern is significantly more likely to result in BAC above 80 mg/dl after drinking vodka/tonic than beer or wine. Men drinking on an empty stomach should know BAC will vary depending on beverage type and the rate and amount of EtOH.

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