As the holidays approach, many people will be traveling home to celebrate with family and friends. People will be braving long cross-country drives, where a quick boost from an energy drink helps to keep them awake. Come New Year's Eve, as the hour of midnight approaches some revellers will be combining alcohol and energy drinks in a cocktail that will keep them partying until the early morning hours. Although combining energy drinks and alcohol is increasingly common, especially among college students, new research shows that it leads to increased risk-taking, including driving while intoxicated.
Jäger Bombs and vodka Red Bull are common drink orders among young people looking to feel the effects of alcohol, without being dragged down by it's drowsing effects. Yet it is just that combined impact of alcohol and caffeine that can make such drinks a dangerous combination. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that mixing alcohol and energy drinks is linked to drinking large amounts of alcohol in one sitting, and underestimating their level of intoxication.
Many people believe the energy drink counteracts the effects of alcohol, which is not the case. They may be less tired than without the energy drink, but it does not alleviate the impairment related to alcohol consumption. In fact, it can increase the effects of the alcohol because the drinks act as a diuretic. This can lead to what is known as “wide awake drunkenness.” Increased alcohol intake, while under the energy buzz from the caffeine can increase the likelihood of alcohol-related consequences, including drunk driving.
Four years ago, concerns over drinks containing a combination of alcohol and caffeine led some states, including Washington, to ban the drinks, such as Four Loko. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning regarding such drinks. These drinks were later reformulated, to reduce the amount of caffeine, in addition to other restrictions aimed at preventing targeting an underage market. While it is more difficult to get an alcohol and energy drink in the same can, there is no restriction on mixing the two at a party, or ordering such a cocktail in a bar.
By combining the two, research suggests that people engage in more risky behavior that with alcohol alone. In a study by the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon, researchers found that combined users of alcohol and energy drinks were more likely, at 57 percent, to say they drove when they knew they were too drunk to drive versus those 44 percent who only drank alcohol. According to Conrad L. Woolsey, author of the study, from a physiological standpoint, energy drinks change the brain chemistry to make you more confident.
However, Woolsey warned that the study doesn't prove that energy drinks are the cause of the higher-risk behavior, such as drinking and driving. It may be that the people who mix energy with alcohol may be higher risk-takers in general. AUniversity of Tasmania study found that those who are more likely to engage in risky behavior do so regardless of the energy drink consumption. It is only a minority of users who do so, those more likely to drink more alcohol anyway, primarily male, and who more often are risk-takers.