Fact or Myth: Coffee Can Sober You Up

This is a MYTH.

The myth that coffee can sober you up when you’re inebriated is a dangerous one. Every time we assume a cup of coffee has knocked us out of our drunken stupor, we are putting ourselves and others in harm’s way. A cup or two or three of coffee may wake you up, but it does absolutely nothing to sober you up. In fact, it clouds your judgment and creates the false impression of competency.

Cup of coffee, cognac glass and bags of coffee beansHow Your Body Handles Alcohol

About 2% to 8% of alcohol is eliminated through urine, sweat, and breath. The rest of the alcohol needs to be metabolized in the body. It takes your liver about an hour to metabolize one alcoholic beverage. That’s one hour for a 6 ounce glass of wine…one hour for a 12 ounce beer…and one hour for 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. Drink more than that in an hour’s time and you’ll have alcohol swimming through your system for quite awhile.

The amount of time it takes your body to metabolize alcohol is dependent on an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH). ADH is responsible for breaking down the majority of alcohol in the body, and nothing you drink—coffee, diet soda, tea—can increase ADH levels or speed up the process.

What Coffee Actually Does

Coffee is a stimulant, and as such it can increase your alertness and counteract the sedative effects of alcohol. But…make no mistake about it…you are still just as intoxicated as you were before that first sip of coffee.

Research published in Behavioral Neuroscience showed that caffeine made drunk mice more alert, but didn’t reverse learning problems caused by alcohol. Thomas Gould, PhD, of Temple University and one of the study authors says, “The myth about coffee’s sobering powers is particularly important to debunk because the co-use of caffeine and alcohol could actually lead to poor decisions with disastrous outcomes. People who have consumed only alcohol, who feel tired and intoxicated, may be more likely to acknowledge that they are drunk.”

So if coffee can’t help you metabolize alcohol faster, then what will?

FACT: Nothing…nothing but time, that is.

If you are inebriated, the only way to sober up is to give yourself time. This time will vary according to the levels of alcohol in your system, but expect to wait it out for a few hours. Drink responsibly, pace yourself, and have fun!

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