Tipsy on bubbly

Champagne has no more alcohol than many wines, yet most drinkers notice that you feel tipsy faster.

It’s not just a feeling. One study suggests that the blood alcohol levels rise more quickly after drinking champagne (or any sparkling wine) compared to a still wine. This increased impairment lasts for 20 minutes, until still wine drinkers “catch up” with the inebriation levels.

Why would this be?

Flattened champagne acts like a regular wine, so it must be something to do with the bubbles.

Bubbles in sparkling wines are carbon dioxide. In expensive wines, these are a product of active yeast. In cheaper wines, this is artificially added, in the same way as soft drinks are carbonated.

So how does carbon dioxide bubbles help to move alcohol into the bloodstream?

Very little alcohol passes through the stomach walls, most is absorbed from the small intestine. It is possible that bubbles push against the sphincter muscle closing the stomach, encouraging it to open and permit faster gastric emptying. Since alcohol would then hit the small intestine earlier, it could be absorbed more quickly.

It really needs more research. I’m sure there would be no shortage of volunteers for studies looking at relative rates of inebriation.

But this raises some extra questions. Does fizzy beer make you drunk faster than still? What about sparkling cocktails versus still ones? Do carbonated soft drinks raise blood glucose levels more quickly than flat cordials?

Plenty of research ideas for the budding scientist (alcoholic?).


Ridout F, Gould S, Nunes C, Hindmarch I. (2003) The effects of carbon dioxide in champagne on psychometric performance and blood-alcohol concentration. Alcohol Alcohol. 38(4):381-5.


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Filed under Curious Science, Kitchen Science, Science

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