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Energy Drinks Combined with Alcohol More Dangerous Than Alcohol Alone

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Although it has been suggested that combining energy drinks with alcohol is risky and can lead to accidents and injuries, there is little scientific research on how the combination of alcohol and caffeine affects drinkers differently from alcohol alone. A new study, however, has found that alcohol combined with caffeine enhances feelings of stimulation in drinkers, but does not change the level of impairment or impulsive behavior. This suggests that alcohol combined with energy drinks increases the risks involved with alcohol consumption.

First author Cecile A. Marczinski, assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University, said that young people are now drinking alcohol in different ways; for example, vodka and Red Bull has become more popular than classic mixed drinks like rum and Coke.

Amelia M. Arria, director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said that sales data has shown that energy drinks have increased in popularity, but there is little information to support the growing concern about the dangers of mixing energy drinks and alcohol.

Marczinski added that most of the current evidence that the combination of alcohol and energy drinks is risky is derived from studies that have found an increased risk of accidents and injuries associated with alcohol/energy drink combinations. However, these studies don’t address the idea that risky drinkers who are prone to heavy drinking could be attracted to these drinks simply because they are trendy. As a result, Marczinski and colleagues wanted to find out whether these drinks are pharmacologically different from alcoholic drinks that don’t include caffeine.

For the study, the researchers randomly assigned 56 college students between the ages of 21 and 33 to one of four groups that were given four different doses: alcohol alone, energy drink alone, a combination energy drink/alcohol, or a placebo beverage. They were then given a task that measured how quickly they could perform and stop actions following the dose. The participants also explained how they felt, including levels of intoxication, and feelings of stimulation, sedation, and impairment.

The researchers found that the presence of an energy drink alters the reaction to alcohol that the drinker experiences, compared to drinking alcohol alone. Marczinski said that anyone who drinks (with or without an energy drink) acts more impulsively than they would if they hadn’t consumed alcohol, so adding an energy drink to alcohol enhances the feelings of stimulation and impulsivity.

Arria added that the presence of an energy drink did not change the level of impairment associated with drinking alcohol, although it did alter the perception of impairment.

Marczinski concluded that this study provides concrete scientific evidence that mixing energy drinks with alcohol is more risky than drinking alcohol alone, and that college students need to be aware of the risks these beverages carry. Clinicians should also be aware of these dangers, and should warn patients against these types of beverages.

Source: Science Daily, Drinking Energy Beverages Mixed With Alcohol May Be Riskier Than Drinking Alcohol Alone, April 15, 2011