Alcohol and Energy Drink Mix: Know The Risks

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It seems that mixing alcohol and energy drinks is risky business not only for the individuals imbibing the mixture, but sometimes for the public around them.

Energy drinks include beverages such as Rock Star and Red Bull that are loaded with caffeine and other stimulants (e.g., ginseng or guarana). The caffeine in energy drinks ranges from 75 to over 200 milligrams in one serving. For comparison, Mountain Dew has 55 milligrams of caffeine per serving and Coke, 34.

In the U.S., manufacturers can no longer premix high caffeine beverages with alcohol; however, it is becoming popular for people to drop a shot of liquor into a glass of Red Bull and chug away.

What College Students Reported

“We found that college students tended to drink more heavily and become more intoxicated on days they used both energy drinks and alcohol, compared to days they only used alcohol,” said Megan Patrick, researcher, University of Michigan.

Patrick and her colleague Jennifer Maggs examined data on 652 college student over a four semester time period. Over four two-week slots of time, the student participants answered daily questions about their use of energy drinks and alcohol plus what they experienced because of the use.

The study findings indicate that mixing alcohol and energy drinks may result in heavier drinking and severer alcohol related issues. Individuals are not only at risk for blacking out and alcohol poisoning, but young people who are “wide awake drunk” can expose those around them to dangerous situations.

“As energy drinks become more and more popular, we should think about prevention strategies for reducing the negative consequences of...combining energy drinks with alcohol,” says Patrick. This will likely be much easier thought of than done.

Four Cautions About Mixing Energy Drinks and Alcohol

  1. Energy drinks are stimulants while alcohol is a depressant. This combination can have dangerous consequences because the stimulant will mask how intoxicated a person is. An individual may not realize the amount of alcohol he or she consumed. Plus, the stimulant counteracts fatigue which is one way the body lets a person know they have had enough liquid fun.
  2. The caffeine and other stimulants can make a person believe they are not impaired by alcohol. Someone might easily misjudge their capacity to drive or walk safely along a busy road. When the stimulant wears off, alcohol’s depressant effect continues and may cause vomiting during sleep, or depressed respirations.
  3. Research indicates when drinkers mix alcohol and caffeine they drink more and have higher blood alcohol concentrations.
  4. The caffeine in both energy and alcohol drinks are dehydrating, and dehydration messes with our body’s process of metabolizing alcohol. This increases toxicity, causing a memorable hangover the following day.

Used occasionally, energy drinks by themselves are not necessarily harmful but they should be consumed with care. They are powerful stimulants that elevate blood pressure, heart rate, dehydrate the body, and can disrupt sleep. They should not be consumed during exercise.

Sources: Science Daily; Brown University

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