Does Coffee Sober You Up When Drunk?

How often have you seen it on TV and in movies – a drunken person drinking a cup or two, or a dozen cups of dark coffee in a desperate attempt to sober up? It has become an urban myth that this will be helpful, but unfortunately, that is all that it is – a myth. And it was actually busted by Discovery Channel’s MythBusters a few years ago…

  • Here’s what studies claim

What the guys in MythBusters, as well as some other studies, claim is that drinking coffee won’t help you sober up faster. It may actually just make things worse for you. Caffeine is good at making you more alert, even if you are still intoxicated, which may result in thinking you are no longer drunk. It will make you wide awake and reduce the sedative effects of the drinks you took last night, but with alcohol still in your system you will be even more prone to making poor decisions than you were before. It may encourage you, for example, to sit behind the wheel of a car, but your hand-eye coordination will still be pretty bad and you may cause an accident, hurting yourself and others.

Thomas Gould, PhD, of Temple University and one of the authors of a research that concerned coffee and alcohol use, says that even if it may look like you are not drunk anymore… you still are. In their study they placed three groups of mice in a large maze that had many distracting lights and loud noises. Depending on the group, the mice had either been given alcohol, caffeine or a combination of both. They received small shocks if they didn’t avoid certain obstacles. They also had a control group with mice who had been given a saline solution. They came to a conclusion that, in comparison with the control group, the drunken mice seemed relaxed but clumsy and unable to avoid the shocks. The mice that were only given coffee were alert and more capable of traveling through the maze without encountering the shocks. But the mice that had both alcohol and caffeine in their systems were a horrible combination of the two — they appeared very alert, but were still very clumsy and incapable of avoiding shocks.

  • So what does work?

Alcohol leaves the body at a conservative rate of about 0.015 percent of blood alcohol content per hour, which is the time it takes the liver to metabolize it. Coffee definitely won’t help, but there are some things that may. First of all, don’t go out drinking on an empty stomach. This will keep you from getting too drunk in the first place, because food will absorb some of the alcohol. If you already drank on an empty stomach, now is the time to eat something carb-heavy and it will do the trick and also ease the nausea you might feel.  Secondly, drink a lot of water. Alcohol will leave you dehydrated, so try to drink as much water as you do wine or whatever the drink of your choice is. To feel a bit better, you can also try taking a cold shower before going to sleep. Just don’t do it if you have alcohol poisoning, since alcohol already lowers your body temperature. Another great advice is to sleep it off.  Get at least 7 hours of sleep and this will get you through most of the drunken period. Drink a large cup of water before going to bed and maybe take an ibuprofen if you are prone to headaches and hangovers.

  • The final verdict

There are some ways to slow down your alcohol intoxication or make it wear off a bit more quickly, but coffee is definitely not the way to go. All it will do is dehydrate you even more and make you act foolish. Water and food are your best friends, and still it will take time, so plan your day accordingly. Don’t go out and get drunk if you have a big business meeting tomorrow because there is no way you will be at your best in the morning. Be careful when drinking, don’t let yourself make poor choices like driving home alone – take a cab, then take a shower and some medicine if you feel it will help, and go straight to bed. And be ready to feel not-so-good the next day, but hey, that’s the price of a drinking spree!