How to Stop The Room From Spinning When You're Drunk

I'm pretty well known in some circles (such as The Atlantic Wire, Google search engines, and other random places) for my hangover cures. In fact, one of the proudest moments of my life was getting a note from a restaurant crew saying that they'd laminated my advice. And I know how much those guys drink... sooooo...

You might think that having posted that blog post (was it really 8 years ago? Daaaamn!), I'd have given up on hangover cures, and started to cure other things. Well, sure, my interests have wandered a little... but you know what? I still drink alcohol now and then, and despite my advice, I still get hangovers. Except there's a missing step in there - the drunk part.

We’ve all been there. After a big night on the town, you’re settling down for the evening, and ok, sure, you’re not really that drunk… maybe a little unsteady, but nothing a little sleep will fix. So you lie down in bed and close your eyes and… great. The room’s spinning and you feel a billion times worse. Well, damnit. Open your eyes again. The room stops spinning a bit. Maybe if I lie down next to the toilet at least I won’t make a mess of the bed. Fine.

And so you settle down for a night with your new dance partner with alabaster skin and a porcelain persuasion. Yep, you’re curled up ready for a fitful sleep with your arm around the john. Just when was the last time you cleaned it again? Great. Just great.

drunk funny passed out urinal wasted inebriated-thumb

Well, that sucks. So let’s see what we can do about that. This post will teach you a neat "stupid-human-trick" that will help you stop the room from spinning next time you get drunk – and a little of the science behind it. Handy, huh?

Why does the room spin when I'm drunk?

I'm incredibly glad you asked that. Let me introduce you to an amazing piece of human evolution that I'll call "Mr. Vestibulo Ocular Reflex". Part of his job is to make sure that your eyes twist in their sockets along the direction you're looking in. No, seriously, your eyes really honestly do actually do that. (In fact, I've mentioned this before).

Go on, look in a mirror while you tilt your head from side to side. You know you want to.



Seriously… those muscles are there for a reason.
(Image: Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License 2006)

The muscles wrapped around the Z-axis of your eyes are there to keep everything level – up to a point. This reduces the amount of processing power your brain needs to decode the world around you – provided that your head is within about 15 degrees of vertical. (This is why it’s harder to recognize someone when you’re standing on your head, or their face isn’t the same way up as yours). Once your head tilts past that point, your eyes stop trying to keep things horizontal, and gives up, untwisting themselves.

Cool! (And kind of creepy!) (And once you notice it, you’ll catch yourself checking it out the next time you’re near a mirror, over and over. It never gets old – because most people don’t think of their eyes as being able to twist longways. Up and down, sure! But longways? That’s horror movie stuff right there).

How does this work? Well, your vestibular system in your ear is a set of three fluid-filled canals which work like a three-directional spirit level.


So your head knows which direction your head is moving. Unfortunately, if you drink a lot, it’s going to get confused, and confuse your eyes, causing them to wiggle without your control (nystagmus).

Why this happens is up for debate. Some sources say that it’s because the liquid in the canals ends up getting a bit lighter, and so it starts responding to gravity as well as the motion of your head, and it starts to think that you’re spinning in the direction of the ground. Others say that alcohol affects the gain/inhibition of the Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex, so instead of it being a finely tuned, well balanced precision instrument that normally means you get nice clear vision while your head and eyes move, it’s going on a drunken rampage. It’s as if it started shouting at your eyes “OK, we’re turning this way! No, this way!”, over and over.

This, of course, makes things worse. Because if there’s one thing your brain doesn’t like – or at least your stomach – it’s conflicting data. And what’s worse is that the part that’s conflicting is the bit that gives you butterflies in your stomach when you drop off a cliff anyway.

That’s Great And All (And Thanks For the Science Lesson), But Why Should I Care?

Remember how I said that once your head’s tilted past a certain angle, your eyes untangle themselves?

Well, that disconnects them from from the Vestibulo-Ocular Reflex. All you have to do is give a strong enough signal to the system, that it can’t possibly get confused, and is absolutely 100% certain, no matter how impaired you are, that your head is indeed, in fact, not anywhere close to 15 degrees from vertical – never mind upright.

How do you do that?

By putting your head so that it’s hanging downwards, towards the floor. Preferably over the edge of something.


I guess that’ll work… I had something more comfortable in mind.

Actually, try something like a couch. Just position yourself over the arm of the couch, with your head hanging downwards. This is also handy if you need to put a bucket down just in case (although you probably won’t need it).

If you don’t have a handy couch, you can hang over the edge of the bed – or try getting on all fours in the bed. Or make yourself a big mountain of pillows to put under your body so your head can hang down.

Give it a try – and let me know if it works well for you in the comments. From my experience though? It works a treat for nearly every case of the spins – no matter what the cause.

Thanks! Now Where Was This Post On New Year’s Day When I Needed It?

Sorry… *ahem*.

About the author

Simon Cooke is an occasional video game developer, ex-freelance journalist, screenwriter, film-maker, musician, and software engineer in Seattle, WA.

The views posted on this blog are his and his alone, and have no relation to anything he's working on, his employer, or anything else and are not an official statement of any kind by them (and barely even one by him most of the time).

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Caitlin wrote on Sunday, September 15, 2013:

it WORKED! i had a terrible case of the spins last night after having one too many pints & stumbled upon this article. well done. this was a great tip that i’ll certainly share with others. thank you so much!

The Reason You Get The Spins When Drunk - Social Media Mosh wrote on Tuesday, May 20, 2014:

[…] More:How to Stop The Room From Spinning When You’re Drunk“I’m pretty well known in some circles (such as The Atlantic Wire, Google search […]

Why tripods have spirit levels | Accidental Scientist wrote on Monday, December 15, 2014:

[…] – as I’ve covered previously in another post – is also the reason why you get the spins when you’re exceptionally drunk, and also gives you […]

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