Alcohol and Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Combo

Last updated on April 1st, 2020

Mixing energy drinks and alcohol is extremely popular among college students, with an estimated 34 percent of 18- to 24-year olds regularly consuming the cocktails. However, a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health shows the combination is often a serious public health risk.

Researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan concluded the combination of alcohol and stimulant beverages like Red Bull or Amp can have deadly consequences. In fact, a series of hospitalizations and deaths eventually led the FDA to ban the sale of premixed alcoholic energy cocktails. Unfortunately, college students don’t need premixed cocktails; they can simply mix their own.

Researchers…concluded the combination of alcohol and stimulant beverages like Red Bull or Amp can have deadly consequences.

Why Alcohol and Stimulants Don’t Mix

Energy drinks contain caffeine and other plant-based stimulants. When combined with alcoholic beverages, the stimulants actually mask the depressant effects of alcohol. Though the energy drink’s caffeine masks intoxication levels, it has no effect on alcohol metabolism in the liver. That means the body’s alcohol concentration is no longer metabolized or reduced at a normal rate, causing drastically increased blood alcohol levels to continually build.

The Study Specifics

For this particular study, researchers relied on information contained in the University Life Study conducted at Penn State University. The study followed 744 Penn State students from their first through last semesters of college, requiring the completion of both annual and daily surveys. Data related to alcohol and energy drink use was available from spring 2009 to fall 2010. Researchers evaluated the level of alcohol use, at what point the students considered themselves “drunk,” and the consequences that occurred on days when both alcohol and energy drinks were consumed.

Breaking Down the Results

When all the data was compiled, researchers found:

  • Thirty percent used energy drinks and alcohol on the same day.
  • Students who consumed more energy drinks also consumed a greater number of alcoholic drinks.
  • Higher peak blood alcohol levels were present when alcohol and energy drinks were combined.
  • Students were more likely to get drunk and experience negative consequences on the days they consumed alcohol and energy drinks.

The study revealed students who combine energy drinks and alcohol spend more time drinking, leading to the consumption of excessive alcohol. This behavior often leads to binge drinking and dangerously high blood alcohol levels. Thanks to the energy drinks, students are simply unable to recognize how intoxicated they are. Unfortunately, this can lead to life-changing or fatal decisions, such as drinking and driving or sexual assaults.

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