Coffee Won't Help Sober You Up

By Kelly Burch 07/18/18

While you might feel more caffeinated, coffee does not improve motor skills that are affected by alcohol.

cup of coffee

Many people who need to quickly sober up reach for a cup of coffee, but while the caffeine might make you feel more alert, it won’t do anything to reduce the effects of alcohol.

Professor Tony Moss of London South Bank University said that people might feel more sober because they’re caffeinated, but coffee does not improve hand-eye coordination or other motor skills that are affected by alcohol, according to The Independent.

“We know from wider research that coffee isn't an antidote to alcohol,” Moss said. “Taking coffee is a stimulant that will reverse that feeling of being slightly tired as your blood alcohol is coming down.”

However, you’re still impaired, even if you feel slightly better.  

“The only thing that's going to sober you up in that respect is a bit of time,” Moss said.

During a segment for Food Unwrapped, Moss gave five students a glass of vodka and tonic. Each cocktail was custom made to have enough alcohol to make the specific student feel tipsy, according to their body mass. The students were then asked to complete a hand-eye coordination test, guiding a metal loop around a wire without touching it. All five of the students failed the task.

After having a strong cup of coffee, the students reported that they felt more alert, but all five still failed the test. A breathalyzer reading showed why: drinking the coffee had done nothing to change their blood alcohol levels.

While coffee won’t sober you up, it might help you feel a bit better after drinking, especially if you’re hungover. Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert told The Independent that while no food or drink can make you less intoxicated, there are certain choices that will make you feel better after drinking.

"Firstly, your body is often dehydrated after drinking alcohol so it is imperative to drink more water than you usually would," she said. "Secondly, think nutrients. Although we often crave sugary foods when there is alcohol in our system, try and start your morning with a nourishing dish to help your body to recover. Try something like a refreshing smoothie bowl or a filling porridge with nut butter and berries."

If you are trying to sober up, the most useful thing about a cup of coffee is the time it takes to consume. A typical beer or glass of wine takes 2-3 hours to break down in your body, so enjoying a leisurely espresso with a friend will do more than a strong brew to return your motor function to normal.

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.