Whether it’s been a heavy night of drinking or just a couple glasses of fizz, many of us will attempt to counteract the effects of alcohol after a good time. Many have been led to believe that coffee has sobering affects, whether that be from the caffeine or the sometimes-bitter taste. To sort the facts from the fiction behind this debate, we thought we’d do some in-depth research to conclude whether coffee really possesses any sobering qualities.
How Alcohol and Caffeine Are Metabolised
Caffeine is well known as a stimulant, which can make you more alert and improve your performance to some extent. Caffeine interferes with chemical ‘adenosine’, which is known to be a sedative. By blocking the release of this chemical within your brain, caffeine has the ability to make you feel less tired.
Research into alcohol has recently discovered its involvement in dopamine release within the body, acting as a stimulant once you begin drinking. This can last as long as 2 hours, whilst blood-alcohol concentrations remain high. However, from two hours after alcohol consumption to around six hours, objective measures of sleepiness increase and the alertness begins to wear off.
Alcohol also blocks glutamate, a chemical which stimulates nerve cells, which also causes sedation. During this time, many think to go to coffee as a pick me up due to a feeling of drowsiness.
Alcohol and Coffee: A Dangerous Mix
Whilst coffee can certainly make you more alert, it cannot ‘sober you up’. Thinking so would be a dangerous mistake. It does not displace or get rid of the alcohol present in your system. If you’re above the legal limit, you can drink all the coffee you want, and the alcohol level will remain unchanged and will fall faster than it would have it had not drunk the coffee. In fact, your alcohol levels may continue to rise as enters the bloodstream.
Other theories suggest that whilst coffee won’t displace the alcohol within your system, it will make it more manageable. However, that too is incorrect. Your reaction times will remain slow compared to a sober individual and your decision-making process will still be impaired.
There is no evidence that drinking caffeine will make you sharped behind the wheel after a night of drinking. In fact, after you’ve consumed alcohol, the only way to sober up is to let time pass. The specific time it takes for alcohol to leave your system will depend on a number of factors, such as age, weight and height, but on average people metabolise one average drink per hour.
Does Coffee Help With Hangovers?
Hangovers are a result of dehydration. Alcohol isn’t as hydrating as water and is a diuretic, meaning it results in more frequent bathroom visits. These two combined result in dehydration, especially in the morning after a night of zero rehydration. Coffee, like alcohol, is also a diuretic, so not the best drink to be reaching for in the morning to help reverse your hangover.
General guidance for managing hangovers is rehydration through drinking plenty of water. Though, sports drinks may be another viable option, as their filled with electrolytes which can help your body replenish lost nutrients quickly.
For more information on drinking, visit the Drinkaware website.