Some people may think that drinking coffee after drinking alcohol will perk them up and alleviate the symptoms they’re feeling as a result of the drinks they consumed, but this isn’t the case. The dangerous reality is that consuming caffeine after alcohol can actually mask alcohol’s depressant side effects, making you feel you have the capacity to drink more alcohol. Whether it’s in the form of an energy drink or a cup of coffee, mixing caffeine and alcohol is never a good idea. Dive deeper and find out what other risks this combination presents.
How Caffeine Affects the Body
Caffeine is a stimulant that primarily affects the nervous system. When you consume caffeine, you’ll notice you feel more awake and alert. Likely the most commonly used drug in the world, caffeine is found in countless food and drink items that humans consume multiple times a day, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate.
The Food and Drug Administration recommends that individuals consume a maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day. This is equivalent to roughly four or five cups of coffee. While caffeine increases alertness and cognitive function when consumed in moderate amounts, it’s not a substitution for proper rest.
High caffeine intake can increase feelings of anxiety and depression in some people. If you consume more than the FDA-recommended 400 mg a day, you might experience headaches, high blood pressure, irritability, nervousness, increased heart rate, jitters, muscle tremors or dizziness.
The Effects of Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant and the opposite of caffeine, which is a stimulant. This means that rather than waking you up, the effects of alcohol slow you down, impairing your cognitive function. When you consume alcohol, it travels through your bloodstream, affecting your brain, kidneys, liver and lungs.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the way alcohol interacts with the brain can cause mood changes and impair coordination. Too much alcohol consumption over time can also lead to high blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular complications.
Perhaps the biggest impact of alcohol on the body is in the liver, which can suffer from cirrhosis, fibrosis or alcoholic hepatitis after years of heavy drinking. In the short term, alcohol consumption weakens your immune system, putting you at a higher risk of contracting or experiencing complications from other diseases. According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption is the cause of roughly 93,000 deaths in the United States each year.
After drinking alcohol, you may experience slurred speech, headache, distorted vision and hearing, vomiting or drowsiness. Some people become extremely happy and silly with alcohol consumption, while others begin to feel emotional.
The Dangers of Drinking Coffee After Drinking Alcohol
Combining caffeine and alcohol can cause many problems, whether it’s alcohol and an energy drink or drinking coffee after drinking alcohol. Since alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant, the two drugs work against each other, but not in the way people hoping to counteract the effects of alcohol might think.
Drinking coffee after drinking alcohol can mask the side effects of drinking and make you appear more alert and coherent than you really are. The danger of this is that you might think you’re no longer drunk and can consume more alcohol, even though what you previously drank is still in your system. While it might make you feel more cognizant, caffeine doesn’t help your liver metabolize the alcohol in your system, so you’re not reducing your blood alcohol level by drinking caffeine. This puts you at a higher risk of harm from excessive alcohol consumption.
Young people are more likely to combine energy drinks with alcohol, and this is most likely to occur in those who binge drink. The interaction of caffeine and alcohol in the body may lead young people to feel like they can drink more alcohol, leading to higher levels of intoxication. This has been associated with increased incidences of unwanted or unprotected sexual encounters, driving drunk or riding with a drunk driver, or sustaining injuries, according to the CDC.
How Caffeine and Alcohol Interact
There’s much speculation that the combination of alcohol and caffeine presents dangers for the cardiovascular system. While caffeine is a stimulant that increases your heart rate and blood pressure, alcohol does the same thing despite being a depressant. This means that depending on the amount of both drugs you’ve consumed, your cardiovascular system can feel significant effects.
While drinking them together doesn’t necessarily double the negative impact on the body, if you’re consuming enough of one substance to experience changes in your heart rate or blood pressure, adding a second drug to the mix is simply not a healthy choice. Although you might not feel these effects in the short term, if you repeatedly combine caffeine and alcohol, it may be affecting your cardiovascular and nervous systems more than if you drank one substance or the other.
The bottom line is that the interaction between caffeine and alcohol is dangerous because while you might feel they’re canceling each other out, this isn’t what’s happening inside your body. Both drugs have an impact on your heart, blood pressure and nervous system, so while you’re not feeling these effects at the time, they’re affecting you in ways that could be problematic in the long term. The short-term risk of drinking coffee after drinking alcohol is that you believe you’re more alert, even though your blood alcohol level is unchanged.
The belief that you’re no longer drunk can result in dangerous decisions, such as driving under the influence, having sexual encounters you’re not sober enough to consent to or sustaining injuries resulting from the impairment. Caffeine doesn’t help your body metabolize alcohol; instead, it gives you the illusion of being more sober.
It Might Be Time to Seek Help
If you’re regularly combining alcohol and caffeine, it’s likely a sign of a larger problem, and it’s time to seek help. At FHE, our experienced team of counselors can support you in finding a treatment plan that meets your needs. Contact us today at (833) 596-3502 to begin your journey to recovery.