Your Go-To, Myth-Busting Guide to Sobering Up

These sobering tips come to the rescue when you can't keep your cool.

Flickr / darks~lyghts

Alcohol is used to toast and celebrate or to mourn a loss. We drink it to relax and to get totally turnt. But, no matter why you’re imbibing, if you drink too much you’re going to wake up with an insane hangover. Alcohol is, after all, an addictive substance that our bodies have a tough time breaking down.

If you find yourself paying a price for a night where you partied too hard, there’s hope. There are plenty tricks to sobering up and avoiding headaches and nausea, but there are also a lot of hangover cure myths out there. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do the next time you wake up and regret having that extra shot … or three.

Don’t: Chug caffeine.

Caffeine is not the cure-all it’s often thought to be. A 2009 study from the journal Behavioral Neuroscience looked at how and why coffee or energy drinks might make a person feel sober when they actually aren’t. They did this by performing a series of experiments on mice. In each trial, the mice had a different combination of alcohol and/or caffeine and were run through a maze that had different points of bright lights or loud noise. At each point, the mouse’s attention and anxiety levels were measured. In a drunk state, the mice had a decreased rate of attention and anxiety, making them clumsy and forgetful. When caffeine was introduced, their rate of anxiety was increased and attention level stayed the same. So, the mice were more alert or aware of the harsh noises and lights, but they still stumbled through the maze. This implies the same effect for humans. When a person drinks alcohol and then caffeine, they might feel more conscious, but they are actually still drunk. This is what often leads to a person thinking they can drive, and we all know how that typically ends.

Do: Gorge yourself in carbs.

It’s a tale as old as time: Don’t drink on an empty stomach. As it just so happens, this is actually a pretty good way of sobering up, or at least preventing you from getting too drunk. A 1998 review published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that “a high carbohydrate/low protein diet depresses alcohol intake, whereas a low carbohydrate/high protein food increases it.” So, the next time you plan on having one too many margaritas, try eating some carbs first. And if you didn’t plan on having one too many, try eating some carbs the next morning.

Don’t: Take a nice jog.

If you’ve ever thought: “I’ll just run it off” after you have a few beers, that’s probably not the best idea. When a person exercises, they burn off more than just calories. The body loses hydration, electrolytes, and other important nutrients and it takes a while for it to bounce back, especially if it’s dehydrated (perhaps due to a hangover, for instance).

In a 2015 study in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers performed tests on 16 participants. The participants were divided into two groups, each had to perform two hours of exercise. Then after working out, one group had beer and another had water. What they found was that “alcohol may represent a serious drawback that can blunt beer’s rehydrating capacity and negatively affect the restoration of fluid balance, increasing the diuretic response in the body.” Which, basically means our bodies become more dehydrated when we consume alcohol. So, if you’re already feeling terrible because of the beers you slammed the night before, running a couple miles is only going to dehydrate you further.

Maybe: Catch some Z’s.

If you’re feeling the spins after raging too hard, laying down isn’t going to sober you up. But, it is going to give your body time to digest and break down the alcohol you’ve consumed. However, falling asleep intoxicated might leave you more tired when you wake up.

A 2013 review, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, of 27 studies on the effects of sleeping after drinking concluded some interesting results. Your REM (rapid eye movement) sleep will be affected depending on how much you drank before you fell asleep. REM sleep is the golden time, it’s when our brain dreams, processes new memories, and retains knowledge. Without it, you might find yourself lacking concentration and feeling drowsy the entire next day.

Don’t: Take an aspirin.

Popping an aspirin seems like common practice after a night of partying to prevent that wretched morning hangover. But, it actually makes you more drunk. A 1990 study by the American Medical Association looked at the blood alcohol levels of five people one hour after they had a drink. They then repeated the experiment but gave the participants an aspirin one hour in. What they found was that their blood alcohol concentration was significantly higher when aspirin was thrown into the mix, than when it wasn’t. The researchers believe this might be because the enzymes that would normally break down the alcohol in our systems are blocked by the aspirin.

Don’t: Hop in an ice-cold shower.

Taking a cold shower when you need to sober up quickly not only is ineffective, it’s dangerous. It’s a common misconception that alcohol makes us warm, some people even turn red after a couple of drinks. But, one of the effects of alcohol is that it dilates blood vessels, bringing blood to the surface of the skin and making a person feel warm.

But, while blood is rushing to the top, your core body temperature is actually dropping. A 2010 study from the University of Austin, Texas, looked at the different parts of the brain that are affected by alcohol. When a person drinks, the hypothalamus — which regulates thermal processes in the body — is inhibited, so the chemical processes that normally occur in the body are happening at a much slower pace. This also puts you at a higher risk of hypothermia. So, you should probably pass on taking a cold shower, or having a snowball fight, when you’re intoxicated.

Do: Drink lots of water.

The best way to sober up is by simply drinking water. The more hydrated our bodies are before, during, and after we drink, the less severe the effects. Hydration is our body’s best defense against any bad foreign substance in our body. It flushes toxins out and helps our bodies and minds perform better.

Science once again helps us, even if we are making bad choices.

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