I am pretty sure I am able to count on one hand the number of people I know who don’t like coffee. Let’s face it, most of us cannot even begin our day without a cup (or two, maybe three). After a stressful day at work though, once the sun goes down and your worries start to melt away, most of us coffee drinkers turn to alcohol. A glass of wine, perhaps. Or in my case, an ice-cold Long Island!
This brings me to the question: Is drinking coffee right before an alcoholic beverage unsafe? Does coffee in fact inhibit the effectiveness of alcohol? What really happens when you consume a stimulant (coffee), followed by a depressant (alcohol)?
Here’s the scary truth: It has been reported that the FDA has issued warnings to companies that manufacture caffeinated alcoholic drinks, on the grounds of caffeine being unsafe when consumed together with alcohol.
Although this may be a concern for some, let’s not jump to conclusions. Let us first take a look at factual data on what effects coffee and alcohol have on our bodies to determine if drinking them one after the other does in fact cause unfavorable consequences on our bodies. After all, I did turn up to work fine after a cuppa and a cold one!
A Closer Look at Coffee
Coffee is most definitely safe for the majority of healthy adults when consumed in modest amounts. It is no surprise then that as of 2019, 63 percent of Americans consume coffee every single day.
Most people love coffee because of what the caffeine in coffee does to our bodies. It gives us a spike in energy and a sense of alertness, not to mention the smell is just divine!
It is these very effects that can turn negative for someone who is not used to consuming caffeine, or someone who has consumed way too much for their body to handle. Insomnia, anxiety, stomach problems, and other side effects are common as caffeine is a stimulant to our central nervous system that affects our bodies in various ways.
Allow me to be a little scientific here. When the caffeine we consume binds to our brains receptors, it sparks a reaction that makes our central nervous system (CNS) attentive and awake. This is why many medications that treat headaches and dementia have some form of caffeine in them. In other words, caffeine is defined as a CNS stimulant. This means that it is mood-enhancing, and regular consumption of caffeine in moderate amounts statistically cuts suicide risk in an individual by 45 percent. Cheers to coffee!
What about alcohol?
On the other hand, alcohol does the exact opposite. Alcohol is considered a depressant. As much as coffee makes you alert, alcohol will make you slurred and sluggish.
Just like caffeine, the alcohol that you consume targets your CNS, inhibiting it from properly functioning (https://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-and-alcohol). This is exactly why you stumble after one too many drinks, and is the main reason why you should never drink and drive!
Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages
The 2000s saw a rise in the popularity of caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs). These are beverages marketed as high energy drinks targeted towards youth. In 2010, the FDA announced that the ingredients in these drinks, especially the mix of caffeine and alcohol, are not generally recognized as safe, which led to the companies producing the CABs to alter their ingredients, removing caffeine.
With these in mind, let’s bring us back to our original question: Is it safe to drink coffee before drinking alcohol?
So, is it a good idea?
The first thing I should point out is that in order for the opposing substances to cause any effect on each other, caffeine would have to be consumed within an hour or two before the alcohol.
Caffeine usually stays in the body for five to six hours, so having an alcoholic beverage hours after the caffeine has left your system will obviously not have many consequences. Usually, when a stimulant and a depressant are in the same mix, the stimulant may overpower the depressant, obscuring its effects.
Having a cuppa right before your alcoholic enjoyment would therefore make you feel more alert that you normally would while drinking. This may seem like a good thing, but when you aren’t getting tipsy as quickly as you did before, you are more likely to drink even more which will decrease your judgement on things and increase your risk of doing something uncalled for like say, drink-driving (or drunk-texting an ex).
In this sense, drinking coffee before alcohol would not be safe for you. Not convinced? Just imagine the nasty hangover the next day from over drinking when just the night before you thought you’ve finally learnt to hold your alcohol well. Damn you, caffeine!
Could I Become Addicted?
One similar function of both coffee and alcohol, though, is dependency. This means that if you regularly have coffee right before heading to the bar and are unable to feel the effects of lots of drinking, you could develop a messy caffeine and alcohol addiction, another reason why it is unsafe to mix the two.
The CDC states that alcohol abuse is responsible for about 88,000 deaths in the United States annually. Therefore, the subdued effect that caffeine has on alcohol could see a rise in alcohol abuse cases in those who like to drink coffee with alcohol. This may trigger higher economic and healthcare costs which could be a big future implication. Yikes!
Of course, nothing is safe if not consumed in moderation. Drinking too much coffee and too much alcohol even on its own is unsafe, let alone drinking them together. Yet having these two much loved substances one after the other may not be so bad in some cases.
Be aware that different types of coffee contain different levels of caffeine. Some coffees have a naturally lower caffeine count than most of its counterparts. Additionally, there are so many decaffeinated options out there, so if still in doubt, why not go for decaf?
Who says you can’t have a cup of coffee right before heading out for drinks with your friends? Just be mindful of what you are consuming, as you should with any type of food or drink!