Drinking a pitcher of margaritas poolside hits different from an evening glass of wine. Three doctors explain exactly how.
Warm weather and booze often go hand-in-hand. Instead of hibernating inside alone on your couch or meeting friends in cozy cafes, summer brings invites to backyard cookouts, hanging out by the pool or meeting up in the park — and alcohol is a guest who usually shows up.
These days, there are a lot of well-crafted, delicious nonalcoholic drinks to sip instead, but if you do want to enjoy some alcoholic beverages, there are some key ways that day drinking affects the body that you should be aware of.
Day drinking can affect you differently than drinking at night.
Family medicine doctor Dr. Sandra Luyindula says that regardless of what time someone drinks alcohol, they are consuming something that’s a sedative.
“Many people think that having alcohol before bed will help them sleep, but it actually does the opposite, disrupting sleep,” she said, adding that people are more likely to wake up throughout the night if they drink alcohol before bed.
So does that mean you can knock a few back during the day and avoid sleep-disrupting effects in the evening? It depends on how much you drink.
“The longer the time period between drinking alcohol and bedtime, the less it can negatively affect sleep, since the body has had time to process and eliminate the alcohol,” said Dr. Anna Balabanova Shannahan, an assistant professor of family medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “But if large quantities are imbibed during the day and it is still in your system, it can still disrupt nighttime sleep.” Shannahan added that since alcohol can make you feel sleepy, it could cause you to want to take a nap, which could then affect how well you sleep that night.
OK, so alcohol can still disrupt your sleep no matter what time you’re drinking. But here’s one way drinking during the day works in your favor, versus at night: “When people drink during the day, it’s usually with food. Food slows down the absorption of alcohol and the effects of alcohol are decreased,” said Dr. Alicia Shelly, an internal medicine doctor.
That said, Shelly also said that alcohol can negatively impact digestion. “Alcohol in general can increase the speed of digestion and put the individual at risk for diarrhea,” she said. Shannahan reiterated this, specifying that drinking alcohol at any time can impact the gut. “Alcohol can irritate the digestive system no matter the time of day, even potentially leading to stomach inflammation over time, which can affect how your body processes nutrients,” she said.
Besides the gut, Luyindula said day drinking can impact your mood, too. Since alcohol is a depressant, things can go downhill later in the day. “No matter the time of day one drinks alcohol, it ultimately has a depressant effect, depleting ‘happiness hormones’ like dopamine and serotonin,” Shannahan said. That means you may feel euphoric day drinking with your friends, but later, once you’re home alone and that buzz is wearing off, you could feel down in the dumps.
Drinking during the day can also put you at risk for dehydration. “We know that alcohol has a dehydrating effect on the body and during the day this dehydration can be amplified by being in the sun, which can be dangerous,” Shelly said. You’re more likely to drink sugary drinks in the daytime.
The type of alcoholic drink you’re likely to drink during the daytime will affect you differently, too ― think about how much sugar is in your brunch mimosa.
“If you’re drinking something sugary, like a margarita or daiquiri, the sugar slows down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream, so a lot of people end up drinking more to feel the effects of the alcohol,” Luyindula explained. “Also, not tasting the alcohol as much [in a sugary drink] can make people drink more.” This means someone may drink more than they usually would and at a quicker pace.
While consuming alcohol in excess is never good for health, Shannahan said that regularly consuming sugary alcoholic drinks can be especially detrimental.
“Added sugars in general can lead to health problems including diabetes, heart disease, inflammation and more, so it’s best to limit high-sugar beverages,” she said. She added that any alcohol can lead to dangerous drops in blood sugar, especially for those with diabetes, as the body becomes focused on metabolizing the alcohol instead of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. “It’s also important to be aware, particularly for those with blood sugar issues, that symptoms of low blood sugar can mimic symptoms of being drunk,” Shannahan said.
No, you’re not naturally more alert (or less drunk) just because it’s daytime.
No matter what you’re drinking and what time it is, alcohol impacts cognition. That means you absolutely shouldn’t drive home after drinking alcohol, no matter what time it is. “Alcohol slows brain activity down, so if you have a couple drinks at lunch, you can only imagine how your work productivity and quality will be in the afternoon,” Luyindula said. In other words, if you’re going to day drink, don’t plan on doing any work later.
In general, Luyindula said it’s important to be aware of how much you’re drinking, no matter what time it is. “As of 2019, there are 14.5 million adults in the U.S. with alcohol use disorder. That’s a lot,” she said. “Consuming three drinks or more a day for women and four drinks or more a day for men is considered binge drinking,” she continued. If this is something you’re doing regularly, she urges you to talk to your primary care doctor about it. “We won’t judge you and will get you the help you need. Otherwise, your drinking habit will eventually affect your family, work, health and finances.”
With that in mind and now knowing exactly how day drinking affects the body, if you are going to day drink this summer, now you know a bit more what to expect, as far as your body is concerned. Cheers to a fun, safe summer!
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
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