Coffee and alcohol – is there any connection? I was hoping to have elegantly avoided the topic of caffeine and hangover in my post-New Year posts. Now the holidays are over, the next party (Valentine’s Day) is definitely coming, and I still haven’t answered the question about the effect of caffeine on a big hangover.
Everyone had their own recipe on reducing hangover, such as the famous hangover breakfast: coffee and full English – or, as the English traditionally call it, try the “hair of the dog that bit you.”
Why dog hair? In the Middle Ages, it was believed that “a hair of the dog that had bitten you”, placed in the wound, accelerates the healing process – which means that the best way to fight a hangover in the morning is with a drink of the same kind as the night before. I don’t think much of alcohol as a hangover cure though. Alcohol deprives the body of fluids, and the hungover body with its pounding head needs electrolyte and fluid balance.
The herring would actually take care of the former (if you can get it down) and the coffee can be used to absorb liquid – after all, it has long since lost its undeserved reputation as a liquid robber [see scientific sources 1-4].
Coffee and hangover: Does it help?
The coffee drink consists mainly of water, but of course, it also contains caffeine – and exactly this question of what effect caffeine has on a hangover was investigated in two scientific studies [5, 6].
In Utrecht, the Netherlands, 549 young students reported what beverages they had consumed before experiencing their last hangover, specifically whether they had consumed caffeinated beverages in addition to alcoholic beverages.
In Boston, USA, 28 students drank caffeinated beer, reportedly without any effect on taste, although caffeine is very bitter, and 36 non-caffeinated beers.
The questions now are: Who had the worst hangover? The “Alcohol-Caffeine Combiners” or the “Decaffeinated”? And how do you measure something like that?
The latter is a real problem because from a medical point of view the hangover is a very complex syndrome [7, 8], so unfortunately there is no single biomarker that can be evaluated objectively. The students, therefore, had to subjectively rate the severity of their hangovers on an Acute Hangover Scale – this is ultimately about personal misery, and who better to judge than yourself?
Caffeine and alcohol
So what effect did caffeine have? The concurring result of both studies: The simultaneous consumption of caffeine and alcohol did not lead to any different symptoms than the consumption of comparable amounts of alcohol alone. In other words, caffeine did not appear to have an impact on the overall occurrence of the hangover, nor on its severity. In order to avoid a hangover, there is probably only one thing to do: keep moderate!
And the cup of coffee the morning after – with or without herring – may help (see above) if the good resolutions have once again failed.
By the way: as far as caffeine is concerned when driving under the influence of alcohol – this has also been scientifically examined: No, caffeine does not negate the negative effect of alcohol on driving! Of course, the following rule always applies: After drinking alcohol, please do not get behind the wheel.
I still have one: In the USA there was recently a study on the influence of the combination of caffeine and alcohol on the sexual behavior of young students. However, since I cannot help but get the impression that the focus in this work was less on scientific than on moral claims, I would like to refrain from further explanations here. Maybe I’ll tell you more about it after the Christmas party 2014?
What are your personal experiences with the combination of coffee and alcohol? I look forward to your comment!
 Armstrong LE Pumerantz AC Roti M Judelson DA et al Fluid, Electrolyte, and Renal Indices of Hydration During 11 Days of Controlled Caffeine Consumption International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2005 15, 252-265.
 Grandjean, AC, Reimers, KJ, Bannick, KE, Haven, MC, The effect of caffeinated, non-caffeinated, caloric, and non-caloric beverages on hydration. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 2000, 19, 591-600.
 Ruxton, CHS, The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance, and hydration: a review of benefits and risks. Nutrition Bulletin 2008, 33, 15-25.
 Killer, S.C., Jeukendrup AE No Evidence of Dehydration with Moderate Daily Coffee Intake: A Counterbalanced Cross-Over Study in a Free-Living Population. PLoS ONE 2014, submitted.
 Penning, R., de Haan, L., Verster, J.C., Caffeinated drinks, alcohol consumption, and hangover severity. The Open Neuropsychopharmacology Journal 2011, 4, 36-39.
 DJ Rohsenow, J Howland, L Alvarez, K Nelson, et al Effects of caffeinated vs. non-caffeinated alcoholic beverage on next-day hangover incidence and severity, perceived sleep quality, and alertness. Addictive Behaviors 2014, 39, 329-332.
 Penning R, van Nuland M, Fliervoet L, Olivier B, Verster JC The pathology of alcohol hangover. Curr Drug Abuse Rev 2010, 3, 68-75.
 R Swift, D Davidson, Alcohol hangover. Alcohol Health Res. World 1998, 22, 54-60.