Don’t Pair Energy Drinks With Alcohol
There are plenty of warnings we receive about not drinking alcohol on an empty stomach or while taking certain medications. Most of us are also familiar with cautionary tales of not mixing different types of alcohol if we don’t want to end the evening feeling sick. However, many people may not be aware of the risk involved in using energy drinks to mix with our cocktails. But new research suggests that doing so may result in a higher probability of making some very bad decisions including drunk driving.
The study, which took place at the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon, found that individuals who consume alcohol and energy drinks together appear to be more likely to drive while impaired than are those who consume only alcohol.1 The subjects were 355 male and female college students. They were asked questions about their drinking habits and other related behaviors.
There were 281 participants who reported having consumed alcohol within the past month, and 107 of those said they had mixed energy drinks and alcohol. Of these combination drinkers, 57 percent admitted to driving despite being aware that they were considerably inebriated. In comparison, 44 percent of the alcohol-only drinkers confessed to driving in that state. Additionally, when the volunteers had blood alcohol levels of above 0.08—the legal limit in all 50 states—53 percent of those who mixed alcohol and energy drinks reported driving, whereas a much lower (but still unacceptable) 38 percent of those who just consumed alcohol reported driving.
While the judgment of many of the drinkers wasn’t wonderful whether they mixed their alcohol with energy drinks or not, it was consistently, quantifiably worse among those who combined. Even if they did not get behind the wheel themselves, 56 percent of the energy drink/alcohol consumers reported being a passenger in a car driven by someone they were aware was too drunk to operate the vehicle safely, versus only 35 percent of the subjects who consumed just alcohol. The combination drinkers also tended to drink alcohol with more frequency over the previous month, binge drink more often, and drink to a state of inebriation more regularly than did those who did not add energy drinks to the mix.
The study was not designed to prove that the energy drinks were responsible for these high-risk behaviors, just that they seem to make them more likely to occur. But the particular mix of caffeine and alcohol is dangerous in a number of ways. Independently, they both can promote the release of greater amounts of dopamine, which impacts the pleasure center in the brain and tends to lower inhibitions. When consumed together, the effect is that much stronger. Plus, while alcohol alone often makes the drinker feel sleepy and not up to certain tasks, the caffeine in the energy drinks counters that and could possibly explain why the combination drinkers were so much more likely to consider themselves capable of driving when they clearly were not.
And this is not the first evidence we have of the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks. A 2010 study at the University of Florida Medical School in Gainesville showed that people who consume alcohol and energy drinks together are three times as likely to become drunk, drinking more alcohol and for longer periods of time than their peers who stick only with alcoholic beverages.2
The point is, energy drinks offer too much caffeine at pretty much any time of day and are clearly not a good idea to mix with alcohol. If you’ve got teens or young adult children, try to discuss with them the possible perils of combining alcohol and energy drinks to “maximize the buzz.” We already know that simply being of college age tends to make you act somewhat impetuously so that you don’t always make the best decisions. Adding caffeine and alcohol to the mix is like adding accelerant to a fire. But we can hope that with a little factual data on the topic, the young adults in your family will take a deep breath and pull back from the brink the next time they think of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
- 1. Blaszczak Boxe, Agata. "Energy drinks plus alcohol may encourage drunk driving." Fox News. 17 December 2014. Accessed 23 December 2014. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/12/17/energy-drinks-plus-alcohol-may-encourage-drunk-driving/
- 2. Thombs, Dennis L.; et al. "Event-level analyses of energy drink consumption and alcohol intoxication in bar patrons." Addictive Behaviors. April 2010. Accessed 24 December 2014. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460309003104