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Does drinking coffee sober you up?

“Why do people always seem to give drunk people a cup of coffee to help them sober up? Does that really work?”

You can almost guarantee that in almost every movie or TV show that you watch if one of the characters gets drunk and is feeling slightly worse for wear, someone will almost immediately offer them a cup of coffee. If the intoxicated person needs to sober up quickly in order to do something important, that coffee is going to be ‘strong and black’. The idea of a strong, black coffee sobering up someone who has had one too many has been around for a long time, but does it actually work?

The simple answer is no!

The idea behind this myth is that the depressant effects of alcohol cause the drinker’s body processes to slow down, causing them to become tired and unable to function as they would normally. The caffeine in the coffee is a stimulant (having the opposite effect of a depressant and ‘speeding up’ activity) and when this is consumed it will ‘cancel’ the effect of the alcohol and the drunk person will be back to normal nice and quickly. Although this is based on a seed of truth, i.e., caffeine can indeed counteract the tiredness caused by drinking small amounts of alcohol, a cup of coffee can’t sober you up and miraculously reverse the effects of a night out on the town. Put simply, the best that it can do is make you a slightly more awake drunk for a short period of time.

Although many have looked for short-cuts to help sober people up over the years, the truth is that time continues to be the only option that actually works.

First published: June 2021

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