Can coffee really sober you up?


You’re out late at night and you’ve had one too many drinks. You’re feeling a bit inebriated, and you’re wondering if a cup of coffee can help. Many of us have been there.

Well, here’s the lowdown: While a cup of joe or shot of espresso can help to perk you up, it’s not going to help sober you up. In fact, in some situations, the combination of caffeine and alcohol could be potentially harmful.

“I call it the ‘perfect storm,’ ” said Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, senior associate dean for health care education at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, who has researched the interactions between caffeine and alcohol, including its effects on injury risk.

How alcohol and caffeine are metabolized

Caffeine is a stimulant, so it can make you more alert and possibly improve your performance to some extent, according to Dr. Robert Swift, associate director of the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addition Studies. Specifically, caffeine interferes with the action of a chemical known as adenosine.
“Adenosine tends to be sedative … and one of the signals to fall asleep is that adenosine builds up in the brain,” Swift said. By blocking the action of adenosine, caffeine has the ability to make you feel less tired, Swift explained.