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Energy Drinks and Alcohol are a Dangerous Mix

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

It’s a common scenario at many bars across the nation: an energy drink, mixed with a shot or two of alcohol. As the drinks continue to climb in popularity among teens and young adults, further research is called for to determine if the drinks are truly safe, especially because many young people frequently mix them with alcohol, a combination that can lead to higher levels of intoxication and health risks.

David Pearson, a researcher at Ball State University, said the combination of energy drinks and alcohol is like overdosing the body’s systems with a potent mix of stimulating drugs and those with a depressant effect. Pearson even compares the combination with the trend of consuming alcohol simultaneously with drugs like ecstasy, explaining that some people’s physiological make-up simply cannot handle the stress.

The drinks are increasing in market share, especially among teens, with enticing names like Red Bull and Venom. Most contain high amounts of caffeine along with guarana (a shrub high in caffeine) and ephedrine, a stimulant drug used for weight loss and athletic performance. Some also contain taurine, a natural sulfonic acid, or ginseng, which are both believed to contribute to energy levels, though their energy-producing effect is still debated.

While many of these chemicals may not be harmful by themselves, their exact interactions when mixed together aren’t clear – nor are their effects when mixed with alcohol. Some professional sports organizations have even banned their use, yet the drinks continue to emerge as a popular choice among college athletes.

Pearson warns that the feeling of artificial strength or energy can last half a day when an energy drink is consumed, and young people who typically consume caffeine believe these drinks fall into the same category. However, the immune system may be negatively affected by large amounts of caffeine, says Pearson. Some energy drinks contain more than three times more caffeine than coffee, and a can might hold two or three servings.

In addition, the combination of alcohol and energy drinks can mute the body’s exhaustion message – typically a clue that a person has been out long enough, or has had more than enough to drink. The energy drinks may allow a person to stay awake longer, thus consuming more alcohol, or they may mask the effects of drinking – leading a teen or young adult to underestimate their level of intoxication.

When too much caffeine is consumed, the heart rate and blood pressure levels can rise, and the problem can be magnified when alcohol is also involved. Contrary to the belief held by many teens and young adults, energy drinks do not help lessen a hangover, but may make it worse by further dehydrating the body due to their caffeine content.

It is recommended that young adults use energy drinks with caution, especially when combining them with alcohol. If a person chooses to drink an energy beverage mixed with alcohol, experts recommend they consume a non-alcoholic and non-caffeine containing beverage afterward to help prevent the possibility of extreme dehydration. Making the caffeine and stimulant contents easier to understand on energy drink labels is also a suggested measure to help prevent dangerous health risks from energy drinks mixed with alcohol.