What do you get when you combine high concentrations of caffeine with alcohol?
A potentially volatile cocktail.
Scientific studies have shown that subjects consuming caffeinated alcoholic beverages are twice as likely to be injured, require medical attention, ride with an intoxicated driver, take advantage of someone sexually, or be taken advantage of sexually than those drinking alcohol-only mixtures.
Though consumers of these beverages reported feeling less intoxicated, their responses, reaction times, and accuracy levels revealed the truth: The boosts of caffeine did not eliminate the negative effects of alcohol, it just kept the subjects awake.
Mixtures of energy drinks and alcohol have become increasingly popular in local bars and nightclubs. From Jägerbombs to Absolut Bulls, everything from brandy to vodka to Jägermeister is mixed with energy drinks in a range of cocktails and shots at local bars and nightclubs with unsettling results.
“It was worse than seeing someone drunk on alcohol,” said Julia Watling, describing a friend who had consumed more than Red Bull and vodka mixed drinks. “He was shaking uncontrollably and it was worse than anything I had ever seen.”
Jamaal Estwick said that he mostly saw people in local clubs drinking Red Bull and brandy
“Red Bull and Hennessy is a very common drink that people mix in the clubs,” he said. In fact, Jet Nightclub features this mixed drink as a special on Wednesday nights.
“Some of those energy drinks are very sweet, so you forget you’re drinking alcohol,” said Mr. Estwick, describing a friend who was drinking a mixture of Gatorade, Red Bull and vodka. “He just lost his taste buds, he just kept drinking.”
Mixing Uppers and Downers
Though the term ‘energy drink’ is not formally recognised by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the United States Department of Agriculture, these highly caffeinated drinks are universally popular with young people, especially when mixed with alcohol.
But for some, the high levels of caffeine and sugar in energy drinks have been associated with adverse side-effects. According to the Dietitians of Canada, a national association of registered dietitians, scientific reports have linked large intakes of energy drinks with faster-than-normal heart beat, elevated blood pressure, orthostatic intolerance and seizures.
The real danger of energy drinks, however, lies in how they affect the body when combined with alcohol.
“When alcohol is consumed and someone is getting drunk, the body gets fatigued … this is one way the body is indicating that there has been enough alcohol consumed and that it would be dangerous to continue drinking,” said Simone Sheehan, community nutritionist with the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.
While the amount of caffeine in a soda like Coca-Cola is usually around 35mg, there is 80mg of caffeine in the energy drink Red Bull, and 160g in the energy drink Monster. The high levels of caffeine in energy drinks counteract natural bodily signals like sleepiness, but not the negative effects of alcohol.
“Alcohol would continue to have the same effects but, because of the energy drink, the individual may feel more alert and not be aware that they are as drunk as they are and continue drinking alcohol when their body is actually already impaired,” Ms Sheehan said.
In addition, when combined with alcohol, energy drinks can have negative effects on cardiovascular function.
“It is established that high levels of caffeine can raise heart rate and blood pressure, causing palpitations and, according to the [US] National Institutes of Health, these energy drinks mixed with alcohol can further increase the risk of heart rhythm problems,” Ms Sheehan said.
Since energy drinks contain stimulants such as taurine and ginseng, and since alcohol is a depressant, she said, “the result is sending mixed messages to the nervous system …which can lead to cardiac problems.”
According to Ms Sheehan, mixing energy drinks with alcohol can also make the morning-after much more difficult.
“Alcohol makes people dehydrated and caffeine-containing drinks are also diuretics … so the combination can make dehydration worse and, therefore, the hangovers worse.”
Ms Sheehan further emphasised that the combination of alcohol and energy drinks could also greatly increase the caloric toll of a night out.
“It is established that high levels of caffeine can raise heart rate and blood pressure, causing palpitations and… these energy drinks mixed with alcohol can further increase the risk of heart rhythm problems.”-