After consuming excess alcohol, the most reliable way to sober up is to sleep while the body processes it. However, other tips, such as drinking coffee and exercising, may help people appear sober for a while.

Alcohol intoxication is a temporary condition that can impair coordination, decision-making, impulse control, and other functions, which can increase the risk of harm. As such, people may want to sober up to lessen these effects and try to prevent a hangover.

However, there is no effective way to sober up quickly other than to stop drinking and allow time to pass.

This article discusses safer approaches to drinking and tips to help people feel more alert after drinking.

A top down view of a cup of coffee on a grey table.Share on Pinterest
Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

There is nothing a person can do to quickly reduce the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level in their body. The liver needs time to filter blood and remove alcohol from the system.

While certain techniques may help a person feel more awake, they will not eliminate alcohol from the blood more quickly and so will not lower the BAC level.

Although people cannot sober up more quickly, the following approaches may help them feel more alert and appear more sober.

1. Coffee

Caffeine may help a person feel alert, but it does not break down alcohol in the body. In addition, even if a person feels aware and alert, it does not mean they are not impaired and intoxicated.

2. Cold showers

Cold showers do not help lower BAC levels. A cold shower may make a person alert for a short period, but they are still impaired.

People sometimes associate cold showers with shock and loss of consciousness for someone who is intoxicated. Therefore, it is advisable to tell others if a person is going to try this approach.

3. Eating and drinking

Eating before, during, and after drinking can help slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. This is because the body closes a valve at the bottom of the stomach when digestion occurs. This slows the rate at which alcohol enters the intestines and is subsequently absorbed.

Foods high in protein, fiber, and fats are more difficult to digest, so slow food transit the most. Foods that may help slow digestion before drinking include:

  • whole carbohydrate sources, such as brown rice, pastas, and oats
  • lean protein sources, like eggs, salmon, and chicken breast
  • starchy whole vegetables, such as potatoes
  • high potassium foods, like avocado and bananas

Dehydration can occur when drinking alcohol, so avoiding salty foods is important. Drinking plenty of water can also help people stay hydrated when consuming alcohol.

4. Sleep

Sleep is the best way to help a person sober up. It allows time to pass while the body rests and recovers. Sleep also helps restore the body’s ability to get alcohol out of the system.

The more sleep a person gets, the more sober they will feel, as that gives their liver time to do its job and metabolize the alcohol.

Depending on the timing of alcohol and consumption, alcohol levels can continue to rise during sleep and lead to alcohol poisoning. This can occur if a person is still drinking in excess up to the moment they fall asleep.

5. Exercise

Exercise can help wake up the body and make a person more alert. However, there is currently no strong evidence to suggest that exercise can help metabolize alcohol quicker.

Nevertheless, while exercise will not help to sober a person up, they may become more aware after doing some exercise.

6. Carbon or charcoal capsules

Some proponents suggest that carbon or charcoal capsules, which people can buy in health food stores, may help with sobering up. However, there is no recent evidence to back this up.

The only way a person can effectively avoid intoxication is not to drink alcohol at all or to keep alcohol intake to a minimum. Some ways an individual can stop themselves from consuming too much alcohol and becoming intoxicated may include:

  • Counting drinks: When people are drinking, it is easy to lose track of the amount of alcohol they have consumed. An individual can stay aware of how many drinks they have had by intentionally tracking each one.
  • Slowing down: It takes the body at least 1 hour to process each drink consumed. By the time a person has had their second drink, if it is within the same hour, they are likely to be impaired, although they may not realize it.
  • Hydrating: For every alcoholic drink an individual has, they should also have a full glass of water, which will help limit the amount of alcohol they consume. Even moderate levels of alcohol have a dehydrating effect, and drinking water can slow this effect down.
  • Snacking: Eating before and during drinking can help reduce the rate of alcohol processing.
  • Not mixing drinks: Mixing different types of alcoholic drinks can rapidly bring up BAC levels and make a person feel and appear intoxicated much more quickly than if they stick to one kind only.

Learn more about drinking in moderation.

If a person wants to drink alcohol, it is best to do so in moderation. That means not drinking more than 1 drink per day for females and 2 per day for males, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, any female consuming more than four drinks or male consuming more than five in 2 hours is not drinking safely, as these quantities constitute binge drinking.

The best ways to drink alcohol responsibly and safely include:

  • Never driving any vehicle after consuming alcohol.
  • Having a designated driver or an alternate plan to get home, such as a cab ride.
  • Never drinking alcoholic beverages on an empty stomach.
  • Not taking medications, including over-the-counter drugs, while consuming alcohol. Alcohol may make medications stronger or interact with them, making them ineffective or dangerous.

For anyone with a family history of alcohol use disorder, there is a higher risk of also developing the condition. For those people, it may be wise to avoid consuming alcohol altogether.

Learn more about the short- and long-term effects of drinking alcohol.

When a person consumes alcoholic beverages, the alcohol builds up in their bloodstream. The liver is the primary organ for eliminating alcohol and needs time to filter the blood and break the alcohol down.

The liver contains an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase, which metabolizes the alcohol and helps remove it from the body. Alcohol leaves the body through breath, sweat, and urine.

Alcohol roughly leaves the body at an average rate of 0.015 grams per 100 milliliters per hour. This translates to reducing a person’s BAC level by 0.015 per hour.

However, many factors, such as a person’s sex, medication use, and health, can affect intoxication and cause BAC to rise quicker and fall slower. If someone with a BAC level of 0.08 stops drinking, it will take roughly 6 hours for them to sober up.

Alcohol consumption can impair coordination and decision-making. If a person chooses to consume alcohol, they should do so safely and take whatever steps are necessary to avoid putting themselves and others in harm’s way.

The best way to sober up from excess alcohol drinking is to allow plenty of time, rest, and sleep. The suggested methods above may help a person feel and appear more alert but will not decrease blood alcohol levels in their body.

A person should not drive when they have consumed over the recommended legal amount of alcohol, even if they have made attempts to sober up.