Drinking coffee doesn’t help you sober up when drunk, scientist reveals

It turns out caffeine doesn't cancel out the effects of too much alcohol

Sarah Young
Tuesday 09 July 2019 14:45 BST
Drinking coffee doesn’t help you sober up when drunk, scientist reveals

Whether it’s a heavy night of drinking or a couple of glasses of fizz with dinner, many of us might be inclined to counteract the effects off too much booze with a cup of coffee.

But, while we hope the caffeine will help us to sober up, scientists are now saying that it might not make much of a difference after all.

As revealed on Monday’s Food Unwrapped on Channel 4, professor Tony Moss of London South Bank University tells presenter Jimmy Doherty that coffee doesn’t help decrease blood alcohol levels.

Instead, he suggests that while you might feel more alert from the caffeine, your hand-eye coordination and other motor skills will remain affected by the alcohol in your system.

To put his theory to the test, Moss invited five students into a controlled pub-like environment where each of them was asked to drink a vodka and tonic that contains enough alcohol based on their individual height and weights to make them feel tipsy.

They were then each given a simple hand-eye coordination test where they had to guide a metal hoop around a wire without touching it: All of them failed to complete the task.

After drinking a strong cup of coffee, the participants felt more alert and attempted the test again but still failed.

Testing their blood alcohol levels with a breathalyser, Moss revealed that the participant’s levels hadn't changed after drinking the coffee and that there really is only one way to sober up after drinking too much: waiting.

“We know from wider research that coffee isn't an antidote to alcohol,” he says.

“Taking coffee is a stimulant that will reverse that feeling of being slightly tired as your blood alcohol is coming down.

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

The findings are supported by a study published in 2009 which detailed the effects of combining alcohol and caffeine.

Mice were given alcohol followed by the human equivalent of eight cups of coffee. After the caffeine they seemed more alert, but were still much worse than sober mice at making their way around a maze.

While there is no miracle cure for sobering up, there are certain foods and drinks you can turn to after a heavy night drinking that will help make your body feel wonderful again.

"Firstly, your body is often dehydrated after drinking alcohol so it is imperative to drink more water than you usually would," Harley Street Nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert tells The Independent.

"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."

As Moss suggested, time is in fact the only thing that will sober you up and according to the NHS, on average it takes about one for your body to break down one unit of alcohol.

Using this as a guide, drinking a large glass of wine (250ml) should take your body about three hours to dreak down, while one pint of beer takes about two hours.

It’s not all bad news for coffee lovers though, last week a new report from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health found that drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of early death.

In fact, they revealed that drinking up to seven cups every day - twice the amount of caffeine recommended by the UK Food Standards Agency– could cut death rates by 16 per cent.

Similarly, drinking eight cups or more per day could cut death rates cut by 14 per cent, while consuming two to five cups reduced early death rates by 12 per cent.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in