Do You Get Drunker On Planes?

Have you ever wondered why you seem to get more intoxicated when drinking alcohol on an airplane? Many frequent flyers have noticed that they feel the effects of alcohol more intensely at 35,000 feet. In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the science behind why you can get drunker on planes.

Lower Oxygen Levels

When it comes to getting drunk on planes, one factor that plays a significant role is the lower oxygen levels in the cabin. The air pressure in an aircraft is typically set to simulate an altitude of around 6,000 to 8,000 feet, which is much lower than the sea level pressure we experience on the ground.

As a result, the oxygen concentration in the cabin is also lower, making it harder for our bodies to absorb oxygen efficiently.

Cabin air pressure is lower

The lower cabin air pressure affects the way our bodies metabolize alcohol. With reduced oxygen levels, our liver has a harder time breaking down alcohol, leading to higher levels of alcohol in the bloodstream.

This means that the same amount of alcohol consumed on the ground will have a greater impact at high altitudes. So, even if you have just one or two drinks on a plane, you might feel the effects more strongly than you would on the ground.

Blood alcohol content rises

Research has shown that the combination of lower oxygen levels and the effects of altitude can result in an increased blood alcohol content (BAC) when consuming alcoholic beverages during a flight. A study published in the Journal of Travel Medicine found that individuals who consumed the same amount of alcohol on a flight as they would on the ground had a higher BAC in the air.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “the airplane effect.”

It’s important to note that the effects of alcohol can vary from person to person, and factors such as body weight, metabolism, and tolerance levels also play a role. Additionally, staying hydrated while flying is crucial as dehydration can worsen the effects of alcohol.

So, if you do choose to enjoy a drink or two during your flight, remember to pace yourself and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.


One of the factors that can contribute to feeling drunker on planes is dehydration. When flying, the body tends to lose more moisture due to the dry environment in the cabin. The low humidity levels in airplanes can cause the body to become dehydrated faster than usual.

This can lead to a range of symptoms including dizziness, fatigue, and impaired judgment.

Dry airplane cabins

Airplane cabins are known for their low humidity levels, usually around 10-20%. This is significantly lower than the average humidity levels of around 40-60% found in most indoor environments. The dry air in planes can cause moisture to evaporate from the body at a faster rate, leading to increased dehydration.

Dehydration can have a number of effects on the body, including affecting the way alcohol is metabolized. When dehydrated, the body has a harder time breaking down and eliminating alcohol, which can result in higher blood alcohol concentration levels.

This can make you feel drunker than you would under normal circumstances.

Alcohol is a diuretic

Another factor to consider is the consumption of alcohol itself. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urine production and can contribute to dehydration. When you drink alcohol on a plane, it can further dehydrate your body, exacerbating the effects of the already dry cabin environment.

It’s important to note that alcohol affects individuals differently, and factors such as body weight, metabolism, and tolerance levels can also play a role in how alcohol is processed in the body. However, the combination of dehydration from the dry cabin environment and the diuretic effects of alcohol can contribute to feeling drunker on planes.

To combat the effects of dehydration on airplanes, it is recommended to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your flight. Staying hydrated can help alleviate symptoms and reduce the impact of alcohol on the body.

It’s also advisable to limit alcohol consumption while flying to avoid further dehydration.

For more information on the effects of dehydration and alcohol on the body, you can visit Mayo Clinic and CDC.

Fatigue and Jet Lag

When it comes to flying, fatigue and jet lag are common concerns for many travelers. Long flights, changing time zones, and disruptions to sleep patterns can leave passengers feeling exhausted and disoriented.

But how exactly do these factors affect our alcohol tolerance and make us feel drunker on planes?

Disruptions to sleep cycles

One of the main contributors to feeling drunker on planes is the disruption to our sleep cycles. Traveling across multiple time zones can lead to jet lag, which occurs when our internal body clock is out of sync with the local time.

This disruption can result in fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell. Lack of quality sleep can also impair cognitive function and decrease our ability to make rational decisions.

According to a study published in the journal Sleep, disruptions to sleep cycles can affect the body’s processing of alcohol. The study found that individuals who experienced irregular sleep patterns had higher blood alcohol concentrations and reported feeling more intoxicated after consuming the same amount of alcohol compared to those with regular sleep patterns.

Fatigue lowers tolerance

Another factor that contributes to feeling drunker on planes is the overall fatigue that comes with air travel. Long flights, cramped seats, and the stress of navigating airports can leave passengers feeling exhausted.

When we are tired, our bodies are not able to metabolize alcohol as efficiently, leading to a lower alcohol tolerance.

In fact, a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that fatigue can significantly affect alcohol metabolism. The study showed that individuals who were sleep-deprived had slower alcohol metabolism rates, resulting in higher blood alcohol concentrations and increased feelings of intoxication.

Mixing Alcohol with Medication

When it comes to mixing alcohol with medication, caution should always be exercised. Some prescriptions react with alcohol, leading to potentially dangerous side effects. It is crucial to be aware of these interactions and take necessary precautions to avoid any harm.

Some prescriptions react with alcohol

There are various medications that can have adverse reactions when combined with alcohol. For example, certain antibiotics, such as metronidazole, can cause severe nausea, vomiting, and headaches when taken with alcohol.

Mixing alcohol with medications like antihistamines, antidepressants, and sedatives can enhance their sedative effects, leading to dizziness, drowsiness, and impaired coordination.

Furthermore, alcohol can interfere with the metabolism of medications, altering their effectiveness. For instance, consuming alcohol while taking blood thinners like warfarin can increase the risk of bleeding. Similarly, combining alcohol with acetaminophen can increase the risk of liver damage.

Be aware of interactions

It is essential to be aware of the potential interactions between alcohol and the medications you are taking. Always read the labels and consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist. They can provide valuable information about whether alcohol should be avoided while taking a particular medication.

In some cases, it may be necessary to completely abstain from alcohol while on medication. This is especially true for medications that have a high risk of interactions or those that require strict adherence to dosage. Your healthcare provider can guide you on the appropriate course of action.

Taking medication responsibly means understanding the potential risks and making informed decisions. Mixing alcohol with medication can have serious consequences, so it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Your health and well-being should always be the top priority.

For more detailed information on interactions between alcohol and specific medications, you can refer to reputable sources such as the Mayo Clinic or the WebMD.

No Food Absorption

Have you ever wondered why you seem to get drunk faster when you’re on a plane? One possible reason is the lack of food absorption. When you’re in the air, the air pressure and humidity levels are lower, which can affect your body’s ability to digest and absorb food.

This means that any alcohol you consume on the plane may be absorbed more quickly into your bloodstream, leading to a faster and more intense feeling of drunkenness.

Light airplane snacks

While most airlines offer snacks during flights, these are often light and may not be substantial enough to slow down the absorption of alcohol. The salty pretzels or peanuts that are commonly served on planes do little to help your body process the alcohol.

They may provide a temporary distraction, but they won’t have a significant impact on your blood alcohol concentration.

Food helps process alcohol

On the other hand, when you consume a full meal before drinking alcohol, the food in your stomach helps slow down the absorption of alcohol. The presence of food in your stomach can act as a buffer, allowing your body to metabolize the alcohol more slowly.

This can help you stay more sober and prevent the rapid onset of drunkenness.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, consuming food before or while drinking can reduce the peak alcohol concentration in the blood by up to 50%. So, if you want to avoid getting too drunk on a plane, it’s a good idea to eat a substantial meal before your flight or opt for a meal service on the plane if available.


In summary, the unique environment of an airplane can accentuate the effects of alcohol. Lower oxygen, dehydration, fatigue, mixing medications with alcohol, and lack of food absorption are key factors that can make you feel more drunk when flying.

Understanding these effects will help you monitor your alcohol consumption wisely on your next flight.

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