(NaturalNews) Mixed drinks made with diet beverages make you drunker than other drinks, but you can't feel the difference, according to a study conducted by researchers from Northern Kentucky University and published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. That may cause people to get behind the wheel without realizing how impaired they actually are.
Although numerous studies have examined the way that alcohol interacts with the human body, nearly all of them have been conducted in controlled settings with neutral drinks, rather than using the settings and beverages that people actually encounter in daily life.
"More attention needs to be paid to how alcohol is being consumed in the 'real world,'" researcher Cecile A. Marczinski said.
The study was inspired by another recent study that found the highest breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) in bar patrons who had been drinking alcohol mixed with diet beverages - higher than people who drank other mixed drinks or those who drank straight beer, wine or liquor. The study also found that women were more likely to consume diet mixed drinks than men.
People can't tell how drunk they are
In the new study, eight men and eight women were given one of three drinks on three different occasions, without knowing which was which. One drink consisted of a neutral placebo, another of vodka mixed with Squirt (a sugary beverage), and the third identical to the second but using diet Squirt instead. Participants were interviewed about their perceived intoxication, fatigue, impairment and willingness to drive. Their BrAC and impairment was also objectively measured.
"I am really interested in drinking and driving as a problem, so I wanted to know if the simple choice of mixer could be the factor that puts a person above or below the legal limit," Marczinski said. "I also wanted to determine if any BrAC difference would be something that subjects would notice, since this has implications for safe drinking practices, including decisions to drive."
The study confirmed that participants who drank the diet mixed drink had a higher BrAC and more impairment than those who drank the sugary mixed drink. The researchers believe that the sugar in the drink acted like food, slowing the rate at which alcohol moved into the bloodstream. In diet drinks, no such slowing takes place.
Troubling; however, was the fact that there was no difference in participants' perception of their own impairment after the two drinks.
"In this study, subjects felt the same whether they drank the diet or regular mixed alcoholic beverage," Marczinski said. "However, they were above the limit of .08 when they consumed the diet mixer, and below it when they drank the regular mixed beverage. Choices to drink and drive, or engage in any other risky behavior, often depend on how people feel, rather than some objective measurement of impairment."
Diet mixed drinks are likely popular with people trying to watch their weight, Marczinski said.
"Yet the average reader needs to know that ... higher BrACs are a much more significant health risk than a few extra calories."