You’ve seen the commercials saying, “Red Bull gives you wings!” Energy drinks continue to surge in popularity throughout the United States and abroad, but they’ve also brought along a dangerous new trend—mixing alcohol and caffeine-filled beverages.
The combination of these two has created several new flavorful drinks that mask the feeling of intoxication while keeping drinkers up for several hours. The fan base has continued to grow, particularly among young adults and teens, but mixing alcohol with energy drinks can be deadly.
Underage drinking is a common practice in the United States that brings along harmful outcomes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers underage drinking a significant health problem in the country.
Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,500 deaths and 210,000 years of potential life lost among those under age 21. Underage drinking translated to $24 billion in costs in 2010. In 2013, it led to 119,000 emergency room visits for those aged 12 to 21 due to injuries.
Unfortunately, underage drinking is widespread, and the introduction of mixtures like energy drinks has only made the matter worse. A Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, an estimated 29 percent drank alcohol in the past 30 days, with another 14 percent admitting to binge drinking in the same period.
Let’s take a look at energy drinks and why it’s bad to mix them with alcohol.
What Are Energy Drinks?
An energy drink contains excessive levels of caffeine in conjunction with other ingredients like guarana, taurine, sugar, and B vitamins. They are widely advertised as a safe and effective means of boosting your physical and mental stimulation. They’re deemed useful to help with clarity after a long night without much sleep.
During the past several years, the energy drink sector has exploded. Estimates show it growing as much as 60 percent between 2008 and 2012 alone. Based on these numbers, the popularity of these drinks isn’t going to wane anytime soon. The global energy drink market is expected to reach 84.8 billion by 2025.
The most common brand names of energy drinks include the following:
- Red Bull
- 5-Hour Energy
Each drink contains anywhere from 40 mg (milligrams) to 240 mg of caffeine. Although they improve mental clarity for a couple of hours, energy drinks are also known to cause:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Thickening of the blood
The consumption of energy drinks could also lead to cardiac arrest.
Despite their popularity and easy access, energy drinks are not necessarily safe. If you consume one on occasion, it’s unlikely you’ll experience adverse effects unless you have pre-existing heart conditions. However, those who consume these drinks in excess could develop severe issues.
Effects of Mixing Energy Drinks and Alcohol
The surge in popularity of energy drinks caused a new trend to arise in clubs and bars, combining alcohol and energy drinks. As mentioned above, the effects of energy drinks are concerning enough on their own, but mixing these potentially dangerous beverages with alcohol can be fatal.
Since alcohol is a central nervous system (DNS) depressant and slows down brain and motor activity, combining energy drinks’ stimulant properties can be dangerous. These stimulating effects will counteract the sedative nature of alcohol and cause users to feel more awake and less drunk than they are. Researchers know the effect as “wide-awake drunk.”
As you can imagine, feeling wide-awake drunk is dangerous. Despite feeling more alert due to the boost from caffeine, the body is still experiencing the effects of alcohol. People end up drinking more than they intended without realizing their coordination and judgment are being compromised.
In addition to the above-mentioned, those who drink a mixture of caffeinated beverages and alcohol put themselves at a greater risk of alcohol poisoning, participating in risky behaviors, and caffeine and alcohol overdose. Although it’s uncommon, caffeine overdose can happen and can be lethal.
Signs of a caffeine overdose include:
- Increased heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
Exceeding the daily recommended dose of 400 mg of caffeine can produce these undesirable side effects, and they are more common when using energy drinks in conjunction with alcohol.
Young Adults and Teens are Most at Risk
The number of emergency room visits that involve energy drinks has doubled recently, and the vast majority of these visits involved teens and young adults. In addition, nearly 28 percent of college students are likely to try mixing alcohol with energy drinks each month.
Due to the popularity of energy drinks and the prevalence of binge drinking among college kids and teens, it can lead to an unhealthy situation. Those engaging in these behaviors don’t just put themselves at risk; they also put those around them at risk because they’re more likely to participate in risky behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated, fighting, or acting sexually aggressive.
A Purdue University study found that teens and young adults that drink alcohol and energy drinks together will trigger a response in their brains similar to cocaine. Although it feels good in the moment, the mixture may cause changes in their brain chemistry that last into adulthood. It could alter the mind’s ability to feel pleasure and make things supposed to feel good feel boring or dull.
For these reasons, companies that produce premix caffeinated alcoholic beverages were barred from marketing their products in 2010.
Be Safe When Consuming Alcohol and Energy Drinks
Although consuming alcohol and caffeinated beverages is not recommended, it doesn’t stop bartenders from making the combinations when asked. For those who do consume these two drinks together, consider the following:
- Keep track of your alcohol consumption: The most significant problem of mixing alcohol and caffeine is that it will trick the individual into believing they’re sober when they aren’t. You should always keep track of drinking to limit this problem.
- Check caffeine or stimulant content before consumption: High amounts of sugar, caffeine, or other stimulants can damage your body and brain. You should always double-check what’s inside of a drink before consuming to avoid uncomfortable side effects.
- Eat food: Food will slow the rate of alcohol absorption in your body and limit alcohol consumption considerably.
Because of the vast amount of people who mix alcohol and energy drinks, it might seem harmless to use the two together. However, using alcohol and caffeinated beverages in conjunction with one another could lead to complicated and unpredictable outcomes, especially for teens and young adults who don’t have as much control over their limits.