Healthy living

Caffeine won't sober you up this Christmas

Zone default image Another myth debunked

Don't rely on caffeinated drinks to sober you up this Christmas, because they won't. In fact, they may make it more difficult to realise just how drunk you are, according to new research.

“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,” said Dr. Thomas Gould, of Temple University in Philadelphia.

“People who have consumed only alcohol, who feel tired and intoxicated, may be more likely to acknowledge that they are drunk.

“Conversely, people who have consumed both alcohol and caffeine may feel awake and competent enough to handle potentially harmful situations, such as driving while intoxicated or placing themselves in dangerous social situations.”

Dr. Gould and colleagues investigated how alcohol, caffeine or a combination of both affected the ability of mice to negotiate a maze and learn to avoid unpleasant stimuli.

Mice given alcohol alone were found to be less anxious, moved around more but had problems learning to avoid the unpleasant stimuli.

Those given the equivalent of up to six to eight cups of coffee (for humans) were more anxious, moved around less and learned less well.

If given both alcohol and caffeine, the alcohol was found to block the caffeine's ability to make the mice anxious, but did not reverse the alcohol's effect to inhibit learning.

As a result, alcohol calmed the caffeine jitters, leaving the animal more relaxed but less able to avoid threats.

In people, this combination could lead to people thinking they are only slightly drunk and able to function normally - e.g. drive a car - when in fact, they are unable to do so.

“The bottom line is that, despite the appeal of being able to stay up all night and drink, all evidence points to serious risks associated with caffeine-alcohol combinations,” Dr Gould concluded.

The research is published in the journal Behavioural Neuroscience.

This article was published on Tue 8 December 2009

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