Substance Use

Does Food Help You Sober Up?

drunk man eating burger holding beer

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Eating a good meal before or during drinking might feel like a smart move. It can slow down how fast you get drunk, giving you a bit more time, as well as decreasing the hungover feeling the next day. Think of it as a tag team between your food and your drinks, working together for a smoother experience.

The meal helps you chill out, keeps your blood sugar steady, and makes sure you stay hydrated while enjoying your night.

But here’s the catch: don’t pair your food with other substances or certain alcoholic drinks. Mixing those with alcohol can seriously mess with your health and turn your night from fun to a not-so-great time. Substance abuse and substance use are tricky topics when it comes to sobering up with food.

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The Science of Alcohol Metabolism and Absorption

Knowing how the body processes alcohol involves understanding a bit of science and the absorption of alcohol. When you drink alcohol, it goes through your stomach and gets mostly absorbed in the small intestine, entering your bloodstream. (1)

This is where you start feeling the effects of alcohol, known as alcohol intoxication. Then, it travels to the liver, where the main work of breaking down alcohol happens.

The liver turns the alcohol intake into a not-so-friendly substance called acetaldehyde, which later transforms into a safer one called acetate. Your body gets rid of acetate when you breathe and pee. The liver processes alcohol at a steady pace, about one drink per hour. (2)

Factors like weight, age, and health can affect this speed. As the body deals with alcohol, it messes with brain chemicals, affecting things like speech and balance.

Understanding this process helps us see why it’s important to drink responsibly, considering that everyone’s body handles alcohol a bit differently.

Common Myths About Food and Sobriety

If you want to sober up fast, it’s best to go to sleep and wait it out. If you’re tempted to get a little fresh air, open a window and rest. Remember that drunk driving can lead to a DUI arrest and possibly jail time.

Following common myths like drinking coffee, snacking on carbs, taking pain relievers, and drinking water will not help you sober up completely. Especially if you are drinking well over the legal limit. The best way to get sober is to let the process occur naturally. (3)

When you consume alcohol, it enters the stomach and small intestine, where most of it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Once it enters the liver, alcohol is converted to a toxin called acetaldehyde before becoming acetate. This is a safer chemical that your body releases through breathing and urination.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol affects sensitive neurotransmitters in the brain that control:

  • Speech
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Judgment

This results in the classic signs of intoxication, like slowed speech, delayed motor skills, impaired judgment, and dizziness.

No matter what foods you eat, your liver can only process a small amount of alcohol at a time.

Wait it Out

Your body eliminates approximately one standard drink per hour, depending on your alcohol consumption. According to Alcoholic Beverage Control, allowing your liver enough time to metabolize alcohol is the only way to get sober. (4)

Avoid Foods with Alcohol and Other Substances

If you’re looking to get sober, read your food labels carefully. Some foods contain alcohol which can delay the process. In addition, foods that contain marijuana, such as gummies or brownies, can worsen the effects of alcohol. Mixing the two substances is called polysubstance use or polyconsumption. (5)

The Colorado Department of Transportation states that poly consumption increases:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Loss of coordination
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Distorted perception

Different Foods and Alcohol Consumption

You might have heard that having an empty stomach when drinking makes you get drunk faster. While that’s somewhat true, having food with your drinks can soak up some alcohol temporarily. 

However, it’s crucial to know that this won’t stop alcohol from reaching your bloodstream or speed up the elimination process.

Metabolism Rate of Alcohol

When it comes to breaking down blood alcohol content, your body maintains a steady pace of processing one standard drink per hour, as per the guidelines of Alcoholic Beverage Control. This rate remains constant, whether you’ve had food or not. (6)

But, if you drink more than one drink per hour, it can take your body longer to handle it.

Impact of Carbs and Fiber Interaction

Eating foods high in carbs or fiber might slow down how fast your body absorbs alcohol. However, it’s essential to note that this doesn’t hasten your liver’s work in breaking down alcohol.

Research from the Journal of Molecular Science explains that while carbohydrates and fiber can affect how certain drugs are absorbed, they won’t change the impact of alcohol. (7)

Influence of Heavy Meals

You may have heard that having a big meal, especially one with lots of fried or oily foods, can help with hangovers. A study from Bowling Green State University found that eating fatty foods before drinking can delay the increase in your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). However, it won’t make your body work faster or bring your BAC down. (8)

Role of Macronutrients in Alcohol Metabolism

Concerning alcohol metabolism, fats, proteins, and carbs play a role, as mentioned in previous research. But, they don’t make your liver process alcohol any quicker. (9) On the flip side, according to UC San Diego, alcohol can interfere with how your body absorbs nutrients and handles food. So, while what you eat might influence the alcohol absorption rate, it won’t speed up your liver’s job. (10)

Understanding these details empowers you to make informed decisions about how you approach the pairing of food and drinks responsibly.

Benefits of Eating While Drinking

While food may not be a magical solution to achieving sobriety or alleviating the aftereffects of alcohol consumption, its combination with alcohol offers a range of benefits that extend beyond the immediate quest for sobriety.

1. Replenishing Lost Fluids:

  • Dehydration Alleviation: Alcohol is notorious for its dehydrating effects, often leaving you with a dry mouth and an increased sense of thirst. Introducing nutrient-rich and hydrating foods can address these dehydration symptoms while simultaneously enhancing your nutrient levels. (11)
  • Electrolyte Boost: Coconut water, in particular, contains essential electrolytes that aid in balancing your body’s fluid levels. A few sips of coconut water, combined with regular water intake, can be particularly beneficial when combating the effects of a hangover. (12)

2. Blood Sugar Stabilization:

  • Mitigating Fluctuations: The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs highlights that alcohol consumption can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, contributing to symptoms like dizziness and lightheadedness. Opting for fiber-rich foods, such as oatmeal and whole-grain bread, can mitigate these symptoms by stabilizing blood sugar levels. (7)
  • Sustained Energy: Foods rich in fiber not only stabilize blood sugar but also provide sustained energy. This sustained energy can counteract the potential crashes associated with alcohol-induced fluctuations in blood sugar.

3. Providing Essential Nutrients:

  • Nutrient Replenishment: Alcohol consumption can deplete essential nutrients in your body. Incorporating foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, can help replenish these vital nutrients.
  • Enhancing Recovery: Nutrient-dense foods contribute to the recovery process, aiding your body in repairing and regenerating cells that may be impacted by alcohol consumption.

While these benefits can enhance your overall well-being, it’s important to note that moderation is key, and individual responses to food and alcohol can vary. Consulting with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and guidance is recommended, especially if you have specific health concerns or dietary restrictions.

May Improve Comfort

Alcohol may cause you to feel jittery and uneasy. Some people feel relaxed after having a light meal. This may be due to rehydration and restored blood sugar levels, but little research has been done on this connection.  

Alternative Methods to Sober Up

When seeking ways to naturally sober up, consider incorporating alternative methods that go beyond mere time and patience.

1. Hydration for Recovery

Drinking water the next day, and moving forward is a fundamental yet effective approach. Hydrating your body aids in diluting alcohol content, easing its impact, and alleviating symptoms of dehydration, such as headaches and fatigue. A glass of water will lower your blood alcohol level if you have a night of drinking. (13)

2. Nutrient-Rich Foods

Consuming nutrient-rich foods can expedite the recovery process. Foods high in vitamins and minerals, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, contribute to replenishing essential nutrients depleted during alcohol consumption.

3. Physical Activity for Detoxification

Engaging in moderate physical activity promotes the natural detoxification process. Exercise stimulates blood circulation, assisting the body in flushing out toxins and expediting the clearance of alcohol from your system.

4. Herbal Teas and Detoxifying Beverages

Herbal teas, particularly those with detoxifying properties like ginger or peppermint, can soothe the stomach and aid in digestion. These beverages offer a comforting and natural way to promote recovery.

5. Sleep for Restoration

Allow your body to recover by ensuring you get adequate sleep. Quality rest supports the body’s natural healing processes, contributing to mental clarity.

6. Breathing Exercises and Relaxation Techniques

Incorporate deep breathing exercises or relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm. These practices can assist in managing withdrawal symptoms and easing the transition to sobriety.

7. Seek Support and Distraction

Reach out to friends, family, or support groups to share your journey. Engaging in activities that distract and uplift your mood can be instrumental in navigating the challenges of sobriety.

Remember, the effectiveness of these alternative methods may vary from person to person. It’s crucial to listen to your body, be patient, and seek professional help if needed.

Additionally, consult with a healthcare provider before implementing significant changes, especially if you have underlying health concerns or are on medication.

When to Seek Outside Assistance

If you find yourself binge drinking, registering above the legal blood alcohol limit, or experiencing alcohol poisoning, it could indicate an underlying issue known as alcohol use disorder. This condition, a form of addiction, triggers a strong craving for alcohol and often leads to withdrawal symptoms when attempting sobriety. (14)

Withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder encompass shakiness, tremors, anxiety, nervousness, and dizziness, creating a challenging cycle for those affected.

The impact of alcohol use disorder and alcohol’s effects extends beyond physical symptoms, influencing cognitive processes and decision-making. This cognitive distortion contributes to individuals persisting in drinking despite facing adverse consequences. Regrettably, alcohol use disorder heightens the risk of encountering alcohol toxicity, commonly known as alcohol overdose. 

Alcohol toxicity manifests with severe dehydration, accompanied by critical indicators such as bluish fingers and lips, loss of balance or fainting, breathing difficulties, weakened gag reflex, convulsions, and seizures. Recognizing these symptoms is crucial, as alcohol toxicity is a life-threatening condition demanding immediate medical attention.

In such emergencies, it is imperative to call 911 without hesitation. Attempting to alleviate these symptoms by consuming food is not advised; instead, professional medical intervention in a controlled setting is essential. 

Seeking help and wellness for alcohol-related concerns, whether acute issues like alcohol poisoning or broader problems like alcohol use disorder, is a pivotal step toward a healthier and safer future.

Getting Help for Alcohol Use Disorder

Don’t lose hope if you’ve tried to stop drinking on your own but relapsed. Alcohol addiction is a fully treatable disease. With the right approach to care, you can achieve lasting sobriety.

Alcohol addiction requires a comprehensive approach for successful treatment. This may involve therapy, medication, or both.

Medication-assisted detox allows alcohol to leave your system under medical supervision. This approach reduces the risk of serious withdrawal symptoms.

Zinnia Health offers medication-assisted detox and evidence-based programs like SMART Recovery, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and 12-step programs to help you achieve sobriety.

If you or someone you know has tried to stop drinking but can’t, we can help. Together, we’ll design a customized treatment plan with your goals in mind. Call Zinnia Health at (855) 430-9439 to find out how to get started.


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(855) 430-9439
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