What Coffee Actually Does to Your Body When You're Drunk

April 8th 2016

Almie Rose

Most of us can't function without a cup of coffee in the morning. Some of us need a cup of coffee before we can actually make a cup of coffee.

We've written before about why coffee is so great. But you might notice that there's one reason we didn't mention: If you're drunk, chugging coffee makes you sober.

But wait — does it?

How does coffee work?

Let's give a quick explanation as to what coffee does to your body. We all know that coffee contains caffeine (and some coffees have more caffeine than others). There's a chemical in your body called adenosine, which passes through receptors in your central nervous system. By the time your day is over and you're ready for bed, it's in part because of the adenosine that's passed through.

The caffeine in coffee works as an adenosine impersonator, Mentalfloss explained. Meaning that your body gets tricked into fighting off sleepiness because the caffeine blocks the adenosine from passing through. And once that's blocked, dopamine levels get a kick. Dopamine, on its most basic level, is a neurotransmitter that's commonly known for stimulating the "pleasure centers" of your brain.

Does coffee actually make you sober?

This is one of the big life questions that was tested on "MythBusters," and what they discovered may surprise you: Overall, coffee does not make you sober when you're drunk. But it does have other effects.

Drinking coffee while hammered did not improve subjects' hand-eye coordination (the method "Mythbusters" used to test sobriety). But it did make the test subjects more alert, which led them to believe — falsely — that they were sober.

A 2009 study done by the American Psychological Association found the same result, the BBC reported. Scientists gave ethanol to mice and released them into a maze. Then they gave the mice the human equivalent of eight cups of coffee and ran them through the maze again. They found that the mice weren't any better at navigating the maze when compared to completely sober mice. But they were more alert.

There's a big difference between being sober and being alert. And that difference could lead you to make some very bad decisions.

The CDC reported that 28 people in the U.S. die every day in car crashes due to drunk driving.

That equates to one death every 53 minutes. Thirty-one percent of all traffic-related deaths in 2014 were caused by drunk drivers. That's 9,967 people.

Basically, once alcohol gets into your system, all you can do is wait it out.

Caffeine isn't going to magically remove the alcohol that your liver is metabolizing. How quickly that happens depends on the individual, but, generally, one drink takes one hour for your body to process, according to Brown University. "There are no shortcuts," Carlton Erickson, author of "The Neurobiology of Addiction," told Men's Health. "It takes the average man an hour to reduce his blood-alcohol content (BAC) by 0.02 percent."

"The myth about coffee's sobering powers is particularly important to debunk, because the co-use of caffeine and alcohol could actually lead to poor decisions with disastrous outcomes," Thomas Gould, lead researcher on the aforementioned mice study, warned in a BBC interview.

Or one death every 53 minutes.