Why you should never drink alcohol on an empty stomach

Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can have detrimental effects. (Getty Images)
Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can have detrimental effects. (Getty Images)

Drinking alcohol on an empty stomach has happened to the best of us, whether at a wedding reception pre-canapés, post-work drinks with no dinner or when a boozy brunch is more booze than brunch.

Yet, consuming alcohol without ‘lining’ your stomach will not only leave you feeling awful, but it could lead to some health risks.

The UK is a nation of drinkers. Recent statistics show that around 602,391 adults in England are dependent on alcohol, with 55% of males and 41% of females drinking alcohol at least once per week. A further 8% of males and 5% of males consume alcohol every day.

Not only can regular, long-term alcohol consumption cause higher risks of heart disease, strokes, liver disease and cancer - but it can also be fatal. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data determined that there were 9.641 deaths from alcohol-specific causes in 2021, the highest on record.

While there have been limited studies into the effects of alcohol on an empty stomach, most health professionals agree that it’s something you should steer clear from. Here’s why.

Effects of alcohol on an empty stomach

When you drink alcohol it is absorbed into the bloodstream in three phases: through the mouth, through the stomach, and through the small intestine (the latter absorbing around 75% to 85% of the alcohol you consume).

friends at a pub toasting, having a good time, birds view
Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream quicker on an empty stomach. (Getty Images)

It is then distributed to various parts of your body, such as your liver, your kidneys, your brain, lungs, and skin through your bloodstream which is why it can effect mood changes, difficulty with concentration, blackouts, and why you can ‘reek’ of alcohol the morning after drinking it.

When you drink on a full stomach, the rate of absorption takes longer which is why it can take more time to feel the effects of it.

When you drink alcohol on an empty stomach, the alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream much quicker which means it can intensify the side effects of drinking and can be dangerous when large amounts of alcohol are consumed.

Hangovers are also more likely to be severe if you drink on an empty stomach.

Signs of alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning, which can happen when someone consumes a large amount of alcohol in one session, is more likely to occur when drinking on an empty stomach.

  • Some signs of alcohol poisoning include:

  • Limited or lack of movement

  • Peeing or pooing yourself

  • Pale or blue-tinged skin

  • Slow or irregular breathing

  • Experiencing a seizure or a fit

  • Being sick

  • Loss of consciousness

Alcoholic ketoacidosis

A rare but serious complication that can occur when drinking on an empty stomach is alcoholic ketoacidosis. This can occur when a significant amount of alcohol has been consumed which disrupts the metabolism leading to severe nausea, vomiting and stomach pain.

In 2020, a ‘fit and healthy’ 27-year-old woman called Alice Burton Bradford died of alcoholic ketoacidosis after drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. Friends said she wasn’t a heavy drinker.

Alcoholic ketoacidosis is more commonly seen in people with a chronic alcohol use disorder and people who binge drink.

Men and women drinking alcohol
The NHS recommends sticking to 14 units of alcohol per week. (Getty Images)

NHS alcohol recommendations

The NHS says both men and women are advised to drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

One unit of alcohol is either a half a pint of lower to normal strength beer, cider or lager or a small 25ml shot of spirits. A small (125ml) glass of wine is 1.5 units.

The NHS also recommends spreading these units across at least three days.

If you are concerned about your alcohol use, you can call the Drinkline national alcohol helpline on 0300 123 1110.