We’ve all heard it at least on several occasions from people we know after they’ve had a few drinks. “I’d better have a cup of coffee before I hit the road.” The idea being that the caffeine will sober them up at least enough to drive safely home.
They couldn’t be more wrong.
I’ve said it countless time on this blog: The only way to sober up is to allow the body time to metabolize the alcohol. And time is the only thing that will do it.
While the caffeine in the coffee may serve to “wake up” someone, the blood alcohol content of that person will remain the same if they drink no coffee or if they drink ten cups of coffee.
So you may be asking yourself, “Okay, so coffee doesn’t affect my blood alcohol content, but what about my ability to drive?” Unfortunately people who believe that coffee reduces the effects of intoxication are also wrong.
Coffee is a stimulant which, as stated, “wakes someone up.” This does not mean that the effects of intoxication are reduced. If anything, the caffeine serves to trick the brain into thinking that they have been reduced when, in fact, signs of intoxication are still very much present.
A 2010 study on the effects of caffeine and alcohol found that “[people] whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment are impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they’re also ingesting a stimulant. Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced – but not the drunkenness. They can’t tell if they’re drunk; they can’t tell if someone else is drunk.”
A 1983 study entitled “Interactions of Alcohol and Caffeine on Human Reaction Time,” found that “Caffeine has a synergistic interaction with alcohol…(It) has the effect of potentiating the detrimental effects already induced by alcohol….Motor skills which involve delicate muscular coordination and accurate timing have been found to be adversely affected by caffeine.”
What’s more, drinking coffee with alcohol can actually cause a worse hangover. Alcohol causes dehydration which, in turn, partly causes the dreaded hangover. Coffee is a diuretic which also causes dehydration. The dehydration effects of both alcohol and coffee will serve to cause a worse hangover.
So before you chug the pot of coffee before hitting the road, know that it will not sober you up. It’ll just give you a wide awake drunk.
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