So, you’ve had too much to drink. It happens to the best of us. Maybe a strong cocktail snuck up on you. Maybe you drank too much too fast. Or maybe you just had one too many. But what do you do when you need to sober up quickly? The search for a way to sober up fast is an endless one. There are many tall tales and secret recipes out there that claim to have solved this problem. Unfortunately, none are backed by science.

Ask any doctor how to sober up fast and they will tell you the truth: It’s impossible. The good news is that there steps you can take to avoid getting too drunk and ending up with a bad hangover.

How to sober up fast

The only thing that lowers the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream is time. When alcohol enters your stomach, it’s quickly absorbed into your bloodstream through the stomach lining and small intestine. Some alcoholic drinks are absorbed faster than others. Generally, stronger drinks are absorbed more quickly. Alcoholic drinks have varying amounts of alcohol in them. Typically:

  • Beer is around 5 percent alcohol (some beers have more).
  • Wine is about 12 to 15 percent alcohol.
  • Hard liquor is about 45 percent alcohol.

This means that a shot will get you drunk faster than a beer. You may begin to feel the effects within 10 minutes of drinking. The effects will peak around 40 to 60 minutes after you drink. Certain factors can influence how quickly your body absorbs alcohol, including how much you weigh and whether you’ve eaten recently.

After alcohol enters the bloodstream it’s broken down by the liver. It takes about an hour for your liver to break down the amount of alcohol in a standard alcoholic drink (one beer, one glass of wine, or one shot). If you drink alcohol faster than your liver can break it down, your blood alcohol level rises and you start feeling drunk. There isn’t anything you can do to speed up how quickly your liver breaks down the alcohol in your blood, so sobering up fast isn’t really an option.

Myths about sobering up fast

You’ve probably heard most of them before. DIY methods for sobering up quickly are everywhere. But which ones actually work? The short answer is none of them.

There are certain things you can do to make yourself feel better or look better. But it’s important to remember that nothing but time will lower your blood alcohol level. When you are intoxicated (drunk), alcohol has accumulated in your bloodstream because your liver hasn’t had time to process and break it down yet.

Blood alcohol level is measured by the weight of alcohol in a certain volume of blood. The result of this measurement is called blood alcohol concentration, or BAC. It is illegal in every U.S. state to drive with a BAC of 0.08 or higher. Trying to sober up fast so that you can drive home isn’t a good idea because your BAC will remain high until your liver has time to process the alcohol and get it out of your blood. This means you could be pulled over and charged with drunk driving or, worse, get into a serious car accident harming yourself or others.

An estimated 28 people in the United States die every day in alcohol-related car accidents — that’s one person every 51 minutes.

So, keeping in mind that nothing you can do will lower your BAC except time, let’s look at some common myths about how you can sober up fast:

Myth: Drink strong coffee to sober up.

Alcohol makes you sleepy. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel more awake, but it doesn’t speed up the metabolism of alcohol. In fact, drinking caffeine can be dangerous because it tricks people into thinking they are sober enough to drive. Mixing alcohol with energy drinks is equally, if not more, dangerous.

Myth: Take a cold shower to sober up.

Taking a cold shower is another way to wake yourself up and fight the depressive effects of alcohol. A cold shower can give you a second wind, but it’s not going to reverse the effects of alcohol. In some cases, the shock of a cold shower can actually cause people to lose consciousness.

Myth: Eat fatty foods to sober up.

Alcohol is absorbed through the stomach lining. If you have a stomach full of fatty food when you start drinking, the alcohol will be absorbed into your bloodstream more slowly. But, alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream in about 10 minutes. Once the alcohol is in your blood, it’s too late for food to have any effect. Plus, fatty foods and alcohol combined can cause diarrhea.

Myth: Throw up to sober up.

Throwing up won’t reduce your blood alcohol level. Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream very quickly, so unless you vomit immediately after taking a sip, it won’t make much difference. However, drinking too much can make you feel nauseous. And throwing up often helps relieve nausea.

How to sober up before bed

The best way to sober up is to get a good night’s sleep. Over the course of the night, your liver will have time to metabolize all the alcohol in your system. Passing out after a night of heavy drinking is not uncommon. But it’s important to remember that “sleeping it off” can be dangerous when someone has had a large quantity of alcohol.

An alcohol overdose (alcohol poisoning) can be fatal or lead to irreversible brain damage. Alcohol affects the nerves responsible for gag reflex, which means people can vomit in their sleep and choke to death. Your blood alcohol level can continue to rise even after you’ve passed out, so be careful.

When you are intoxicated, you will fall asleep easily enough, but your sleep will probably be fragmented and disturbed. Here are a few tips that help set the scene for an easier morning:

  • Drink a big glass of water before you go to sleep to fight the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
  • Leave another big glass of water on your nightstand and take sips whenever you wake up.
  • Leave a trash can, bucket, or bowl next to your bed in case you need to vomit.
  • Leave an over-the-counter pain reliever like Advil on your nightstand to take in the morning. Avoid products with acetaminophen, like Tylenol and Excedrin, because they can lead to liver damage when taken with alcohol in the same 24-hour period.
  • Never take sleeping pills or other depressants when you’ve been drinking.
  • Set a back-up alarm if you need to wake up early.

How to sober up in the morning

So it’s the morning after, and you’re paying the price. Hangovers can be brutal, but don’t go drinking raw eggs mixed with bacon fat because the internet tells you it’s a “magic hangover cure.” It’s not.

Most hangovers resolve on their own within 24 hours. The best hangover cures are time and rest, but here are a few tips to help ease the pain:

  • Go back to sleep. Intoxicated sleep is not restful or restorative, but going back to sleep once you are sober can help relieve a hangover.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever to treat your headache.
  • Drink water to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
  • Drink a sports drink fortified with vitamins and minerals, like Gatorade.
  • Treat gastrointestinal upset with an over-the-counter product like Pepto-Bismol or Tums.
  • Caffeine can help combat the fatigue associated with hangovers, but it can also make stomach upset worse.
  • Put some ice or a cold cloth on your head.
  • Keep the shades closed and light out of your eyes, or wear sunglasses.
  • Eat bland foods like toast and crackers to raise your blood sugar without irritating your stomach.
  • Don’t drink more alcohol, as it will make you feel worse.

5 ways to avoid getting too drunk

1. Count your drinks.

Keeping track of how many drinks you’ve had can really help. People often loose count or forget that they took a shot. Try putting beer caps in your pocket, carrying a pen and writing tick marks on your hand, or using a simple notepad app on your phone to mark each drink.

There are also several apps designed to help you monitor how many drinks you’ve had. Many of these apps can estimate your blood alcohol level and alert you when you’re drinking too fast or too much. Try AlcoDroid for Android or IntelliDrink for iPhone.

2. Measure your drinks.

A standard drink is one 12-ounce beer, one 4-ounce glass of wine, or one 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor. Many cocktails contain more than one shot. A generous pour of wine often amounts to two standard drinks. Keep in mind that beers vary in alcohol percentage, so an IPA with 9 percent alcohol will count more than a light beer with 4 percent alcohol.

3. Alter what you drink.

To avoid getting too drunk, stick with drinks that have a low alcohol content, such as light beer. Try avoiding mixed drinks and drinking only beer for the night. Shots of hard liquor get you drunk very fast, so avoid them.

4. Alter how you drink.

Slow down! Stick with drinks that take a while to finish, like beer and wine. If you can, stick to one drink per hour. Try drinking a glass of water, soda, or juice in between alcoholic drinks. Spacing out your drinks allows your liver time to break down the alcohol.

5. Eat something!

When you start drinking on an empty stomach the alcohol is absorbed very quickly. Try eating a meal high in carbs or fats before drinking. Also, it may help to continue snacking as the night goes on. 

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