New Year’s revelers, take heed: Champagne really does get you drunk faster

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.
Image: Pexels, CC0
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Twenty-five percent of all champagne bottles sold in the US are purchased in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. So there’s a good chance you’ll be confronted with a glass of bubbly come Dec. 31.

To many people, champagne connotes wild nights and even wilder hangovers. But is this scientifically proven fact or anecdotal fiction?

People have been asking this question for a long time. In a 1924 study, researchers analyzed the effect of carbon dioxide on the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the blood. They found that bubbles do, in fact, get you drunk faster. A more recent 2007 study took these findings a step further, proving that the peak blood alcohol concentration (BAC, for short) reached from drinking a shot of vodka mixed with soda is actually higher than the peak BAC reached from drinking a straight shot of vodka.

The effects that different mixtures of vodka have on blood alcohol content are illustrated in the graph below. Dr. Reuben Gonzalez, a pharmacologist at the University of Texas, told Quartz that in this experiment, the difference between the peak BAC achieved by drinking vodka straight (Solution A) and peak BAC achieved by drinking vodka mixed with soda (Solution C) equates to about one standard drink. Finally, while vodka mixed with water (Solution B) appears to result in slightly more drunkenness over time, the difference is not great enough to be noticeable.

Image for article titled New Year’s revelers, take heed: Champagne really does get you drunk faster
Image: Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine

“I think most people could tell the difference between 70 milligrams per milliliter and 110 milligrams per milliliter,” he said.

The rate at which peak BAC is reached effects the way the alcohol makes you feel, Dr. Gonzalez explained.

“Within the first 15 to 30 minutes of taking a shot most people feel a level of stimulation that coincides with the alcohol levels rising in the blood, but as BAC levels fall, most people start to feel the sedative effects,” he said.

What this means, with regard to the difference between the experience of drinking a glass of Champagne and that of drinking a glass of regular wine, is that drinking a glass of Champagne will result in a steep spike of drunkenness, akin to a sugar rush, whereas a glass of wine will result in a smoother high before the slope switches and the alcohol’s sedative effects kick in.

In the study, researchers attribute the differing rates of absorption to “gastric emptying,” which basically refers to the way the stomach releases its contents into the small intestine, where most alcohol is absorbed. The volume added by the gaseous soda water to the shot of vodka in the experiment results in gastric emptying at an increased rate, they posit. The faster gastric emptying occurs, the more quickly you get buzzed.

A higher peak BAC also means more alcohol absorbed into the bloodstream, which inevitably results in a stronger hangover. So, there you go—mystery solved.

Luckily, science has some good news on the drinking front. The way you expect alcohol to affect you actually determines how drunk you get, according to a 1995 study, in which researchers found that subjects who expected to react more strongly to alcohol displayed more drunken behavior under its influence.

Armed with that knowledge, picture the night you want to have. Then go out and party.