There’s nothing you can do to make yourself sober up more quickly. However, there are steps you can take to make the next morning easier or to avoid getting drunk in the first place.
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.
What do you do now when you need to sober up quickly?
The search for a way to sober up fast can be an endless one. There are many tall tales and secret recipes out there that claim to have solved this problem. None are backed by science.
Ask any doctor how to sober up fast, and they’ll tell you the truth: It’s impossible.
The only thing that lowers the concentration of alcohol in your bloodstream is time.
The good news is you can take steps to avoid getting too drunk in the first place and ending up with a bad hangover.
The best way to sober up is to get a good night’s sleep. Throughout the night, your liver will have time to metabolize (break down) all the alcohol in your system.
Although you’ll fall asleep easily enough when intoxicated, your sleep will probably be fragmented and disturbed.
Here are a few tips that can help set the scene for an easier morning:
- Drink a big glass of water before you go to sleep to counteract 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.
- Avoid taking over-the-counter pain relievers. You need to wait 25 hours after alcohol consumption to take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to avoid digestive tract irritation. Also, while alcohol is in your system, avoid products with acetaminophen, like Tylenol and some forms of Excedrin. These medications can interact with alcohol and may cause liver damage as a result.
- Never take sleeping pills or other depressants when you’ve been drinking.
- Set a backup alarm if you need to wake up early.
The dangers of “sleeping it off”
Passing out after a night of heavy drinking isn’t uncommon. However, keep in mind that “sleeping it off” can be dangerous when someone has had a large amount of alcohol. Your blood alcohol level can continue to rise even after you pass out.
An alcohol overdose, also known as alcohol poisoning, can be fatal or lead to irreversible brain damage.
Alcohol also affects the nerves responsible for the gag reflex. This means people can vomit in their sleep and choke to death.
If someone you know has been drinking heavily, try to keep them upright for a few hours. Place them on their side instead of their back if they need to lie down. Also, consider contacting 911 or your local emergency services for help.
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 magical hangover cure. It’s not.
Most hangovers resolve on their own within 24 hours. The best hangover cures are time and rest, but there are a few steps you can take to help ease the pain:
- Go back to sleep. Intoxicated sleep isn’t restful or restorative, but going back to sleep once you’re sober can help relieve a hangover.
- Drink water to counteract the dehydrating effects of alcohol.
- Treat gastrointestinal upset with an OTC product such as Tums.
- Take an OTC pain reliever to treat your headache. Avoid acetaminophen due to its effects on the liver.
- Keep the shades closed and the light out of your eyes, or wear sunglasses. A hangover may make you sensitive to light or sound.
- Eat bland foods such as toast and crackers to raise your blood sugar without irritating your stomach.
- Be cautious when consuming caffeine. Caffeine can help ward off the fatigue associated with hangovers, but it can also make an upset stomach worse.
- Avoid trying to relieve your hangover by drinking more alcohol. Instead of curing you, this tactic, known as “hair of the dog,” may simply lead to delayed symptoms. Even if having more alcohol can temporarily relieve or mask your symptoms, your hangover will return once you stop drinking. In the end, you may feel even worse.
You may begin to feel the effects of alcohol within 10 minutes of drinking.
When alcohol enters your stomach, it’s quickly absorbed into your bloodstream through your stomach lining and small intestine.
Some alcoholic drinks are absorbed even faster than others. Generally, stronger drinks are absorbed more quickly. A shot will get you drunk faster than a beer.
Factors — such as how much you weigh and whether you’ve eaten recently — can also influence how quickly your body absorbs alcohol.
Alcoholic drinks have varying amounts of alcohol in them. Typical amounts, according to the
- 4.2% alcohol for some light beers
- 5% alcohol for regular beers, although some beers have more
- 12% alcohol for table wine
- 40% alcohol for distilled spirits such as gin, rum, and whiskey
After alcohol enters the bloodstream, the liver breaks it down. It takes about 1 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, which is why sobering up fast isn’t really an option.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting drunk.
1. Count your drinks
Keeping track of how many drinks you’ve had can really help you avoid getting drunk.
People often lose count or forget that they took a shot. To mark each drink, try:
- putting the caps from your empty beers in your pocket
- carrying a pen and writing check marks on your hand
- using a simple notepad app on your phone
2. Measure your drinks
A generous pour of wine often amounts to two standard drinks. Many cocktails contain more than one shot of alcohol.
Keep in mind that beers vary in alcohol content, too. For instance, a light beer is
3. Alter what you drink
To avoid getting too drunk, stick with drinks with low alcohol content, such as light beer.
Try drinking only beer for the night and avoiding mixed drinks. 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 having 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, your body absorbs the alcohol very quickly. Try eating a meal high in carbs or fat before drinking.
It may also help to continue snacking as the night goes on.
You’ve probably heard most of them before. DIY methods for quickly sobering up are everywhere, but which ones actually work?
The short answer is none of them.
You might be able to make yourself feel better or look better, but only time will lower your blood alcohol level.
When you’re 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.
Let’s look at some common myths about how you can sober up fast, while keeping in mind that nothing can lower your BAC except time.
Myth: Drink strong coffee to sober up
Alcohol makes you sleepy. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel more awake, even when you’re hungover.
However, caffeine doesn’t speed up the metabolism of alcohol.
In fact, drinking caffeine (whether in coffee or energy drinks) can sometimes be dangerous because it tricks people into thinking they’re sober. As a result, they may accidentally injure themselves or put themselves and others at risk by driving drunk.
Myth: Take a cold shower to sober up
Taking a cold shower is another way to wake yourself up.
A cold shower can give you a second wind, but it won’t reverse the effects of alcohol. In some cases, the shock of a cold shower can actually cause people to lose consciousness.
Myth: Throw up to sober up
Throwing up won’t reduce your blood alcohol level.
Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream very quickly, so it won’t make much difference unless you vomit immediately after taking a sip.
However, drinking too much can make you nauseous, and throwing up often helps relieve nausea. Even so, trying to make yourself throw up is not a good idea.
You can’t make yourself sober up more quickly. Time is the only solution.
If you’re feeling the effects of alcohol, drink water or sports drinks to prevent dehydration. Certain OTC medications and bland foods can help with a headache or an upset stomach.
Also, seek help immediately if you think there’s any chance you may pass out.
Driving after drinking
It’s illegal in every U.S. state to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher.
Trying to sober up fast for driving isn’t a good idea. Your BAC will remain high until your liver has time to process the alcohol and get it out of your blood. You could be pulled over and charged with drunk driving or, worse, get into a serious car accident, harming yourself or others.
If you think you have (or someone close to you has) an issue with alcohol, talk with a healthcare professional. If you’re in the United States, you can also look to these resources:
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator, operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Alcohol Treatment Navigator
- SAMHSA’s Treatment Referral Routing Service at 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357)