FRIDAY, April 15 (HealthDay News) -- Combining the caffeine jolt
of energy drinks with the intoxicating effects of alcohol is
riskier than drinking alcohol alone, a new study suggests.
Adding to growing research on the effects of trendy cocktails
such as vodka and the energy drink Red Bull, scientists from
Northern Kentucky University split 56 college students between the
ages of 21 and 33 into four groups. The students received either an
alcoholic beverage, an energy drink, a mixed drink with both
ingredients, or a placebo.
All drinks were made to look and taste like alcoholic energy
drinks, so participants did not know which they were consuming.
Researchers measured how quickly the students could execute and
suppress actions after the dose and asked them to rate feelings
such as stimulation, sedation, impairment and levels of
All of the students who drank alcohol showed impaired impulse
control. But those who drank the alcoholic energy drink perceived
themselves to be less impaired than those who drank the same dose
of alcohol alone, the study authors said, which could make them
more likely to take risks such as driving while intoxicated.
"This study demonstrates these drinks are different . . . and consumers should be aware," said study author Cecile Marczinski, an assistant professor in the department of psychological science. "It might be appropriate to put warning labels on energy drinks saying they should not be mixed with alcohol."
While combining alcohol with caffeinated beverages is nothing
new -- hence the ubiquitous rum and Coke -- energy drinks contain
about three times the amount of caffeine as cola, making them
especially stimulating, Marczinski said.
Prior surveys suggest that 30 to 50 percent of U.S. teenagers
and young people consume energy drinks, which may also contain
stimulants such as guarana. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration
banned ready-made alcoholic beverages with added caffeine in
November 2010 after a year-long review of scientific
Preparing and serving mixed drinks that combine caffeine and
alcohol in bars, parties or elsewhere is legal, however.
The stimulation from caffeinated alcoholic drinks counters the
sedating effects of alcohol, making drinkers feel like they're not
quite as affected by the liquor, Marczinski said. However, the
energy drinks don't alter the level of behavioral impairment, just
the perception of it.
"I'm most concerned about impaired driving," she said. "Typically, a lot of people's judgment is not good even at the best of times when they're drinking alcohol. It's really that sleepy feeling that cues people it's time to go home. This might extend the whole party experience longer than it should."
She and the other researchers noted that further studies are
needed to determine whether the energy drink cocktails are
escalating risky drinking practices among young people, who already
demonstrate high levels of binge drinking.
The study is published online in advance of the July 2011 print
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of
Florida College of Medicine, said his research in this area
indicates that drinkers are more likely to drive if they mix
alcohol with energy drinks. Other studies show increased risks of
violence, unprotected sex and even sexual assault among those who
consume this combination, he said.
"There's this perception that if you drink caffeine, it will sober you up, and it's just completely not true," Goldberger said. "Because the effects of the caffeine work in one region of the brain and the effects of the alcohol work in another, so they don't cancel each other out. Some people call it wide-awake drunk."
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has
more information on drinking
drinking in young adults.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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