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You’ll feel more alert, but BAC stays the same

Tim Nelson
July 10, 2018

For most of us (well, for me at least), weekends are a process of finding the optimal balance between alcohol and caffeine. The belief, of course, is that a Red Bull while out raging or a strong cup of coffee the morning after can help counteract some of the more deleterious effects of alcohol and sober you up. Well, as they often do, a scientist just went and ruined everything.

In a recent appearance on British tv program Food Unwrapped, professor Tony Moss of London South Bank University made the case that drinking coffee or other forms of caffeine doesn’t actually do anything to decrease your blood alcohol levels. You might feel more alert after chugging a pint of cold brew, but the telltale signs of intoxication (like decreased fine motor skills functions) are still there.

To prove it, Moss conducted a little made-for-TV experiment, wherein five students drank a vodka tonic with an amount of alcohol specifically calibrated to give them a buzz based on their height and weight. Each of them then took (and failed) a hand-eye coordination test. Though participants reported feeling more alert after drinking a strong cup of coffee, each of them then failed the same test a second time. Breathalyzer readings taken both before and after the coffee remained constant, further proving that BAC isn’t impacted by caffeine.

This bit of pop science is consistent with a 2009 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, which showed that “Caffeine failed to reverse [alcohol]-induced learning deficits” in mice when it came to completing a maze. It’s also supported by a wealth of existing evidence and conventional wisdom which indicates that caffeine and other lifehacks don’t speed up the rate at which the body breaks down alcohol.

The fact that the coffee myth carries so much weight underscores how badly we want some kind of shortcut to sobriety after drinking. If anything, downing a cup of coffee to reset on the way home from a bar crawl just means you’ll end up texting your ex a lengthy novel about why you should get back together when a much simpler and more elegant “u up?” will do. Until science comes up with some sort of miracle drug that does away with BAC, all you can really do after overindulging is drink some water and wait it out.


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