If you’ve ever had a heavy night and fretted over driving the next day, you will probably have totted up how much you drank, and arrived at an estimated time when you would be legally safe to drive. You may have also looked into how to speed the process up.
In this article we will look at anecdotal methods of ‘sobering up’, and understand how long alcohol takes to leave the body.
Drinking a strong black coffee is sometimes suggested by helpful friends as a means of ‘sobering up’.
Fast track to sobriety? No, sorry! – The stimulating caffeine in coffee may make you feel more alert and aware of your surroundings, but it won’t make you any less intoxicated. It also contains powerful anti-intoxicants that may help reduce the severity of your alcohol induced symptoms. However, caffeine can act as a diuretic, causing you to become more dehydrated, and prolonging your hangover.
Standing under some cold water will shock your body into sobering up.
Fast track to sobriety? Not on your life! – Although the shock given by the cold jets of water may wake you up, making you feel less intoxicated, but it won’t actually remove the alcohol from your system any faster. It is thought that by cooling down, your metabolism may speed up to keep you warm, but the cold actually slows it down.
‘Lining the stomach’ before hand, snacking whilst drinking, and finishing of the night with a take-away are sure ways to ‘absorb the alcohol’, right?
Fast track to sobriety? Nope – Food, especially oily foods like cheese and meat, slow down the ingestion of alcohol, so the alcohol you have consumed still has to be processed by your body at some point. The sugar, and other nutrients, may have an influence of your brain chemistry making you feel better, but eating just slows the process of alcohol breakdown.
Sleep yourself sober! Magic!
Fast track to sobriety? Sort of – If, for example, you sleep for 8 out of the 10 hours needed to get the alcohol completely out your system, then you certainly will feel better for it, as sleep provides the scenario for the body to break down and rid itself of toxins. But the fact remains that it still takes 10 hours for the alcohol to completely leave your system.
Possibly the last thing you want to do whilst drunk! Get that heart rate up and sweat that alcohol out!
Fast track to sobriety? Probably not – It is thought that exercise speeds up metabolism, increasing the turn-over of alcohol, and expelling alcohol through increased deep-lung breathing. There is no reliable evidence to support this, so its best to assume that any change is negligible.
Unsurprisingly, everyone is different. Some people process alcohol faster than others, and this is due to a few different factors: height, weight, stress levels, fitness, BMI and sex – not frequency, but if you are a man or woman. The body processes alcohol at its own rate, and there is very little you can do about it except wait. An idiom you may be familiar with is that “time is a great healer” and in the instance of alcohol intoxication it is true.
The NHS says “On average, it takes about one hour for your body to break down one unit of alcohol.”.
To give you an idea, a unit is defined as 10ml or 8g of alcohol; equivalent to a single measure of 40% whisky, a third of a pint of 5-6% beer, half a standard measure of red wine (175ml). It can be difficult to know exactly how many units are in an alcoholic drink, and without recording drinks as you go, its easy to lose track!
So if you really do need to drive the next day, lower your alcohol intake to suit, and give yourself enough time before getting behind the wheel. Even then there might be some remnant of alcohol in your system, and its not advisable to drive if you’re tired, or feeling lethargic. The best solution and safest (yep you’ve guessed it!) is to not drink the night before at all.
How long does alcohol stay in your blood? (29th September 2015) NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/853.aspx?CategoryID=87