Red Bull and Alcohol Make a Dangerous Combination
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Ryan Coughlin is a self-proclaimed caffeine addict. “I drink Red Bull in everything,” said the 25-year-old senior kinesiology major. And so, like many of the interviewed SF State students, his alcoholic drink of choice is Red Bull and vodka.

Energy drinks like Red Bull and Rock Star served with alcohol have become so common that bars and clubs have refrigerators fully stocked with Red Bull and Red Bull signs hang above the hundreds of bottles of liquor.

According to Michael Ritter, SF State coordinator of prevention education programs / C.E.A.S.E., the combination of Red Bull and alcohol not only causes people to get drunk faster, but the stimulating effects of the Red Bull masks the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

SF State chemistry lecturer Bill Michaely explained that the caffeine in energy drinks causes the veins in the human body to expand. Because the veins have become wider, when alcohol is mixed with caffeine the alcohol is able to travel through the body faster, causing the drinker to feel the alcohol’s effects quicker.

Coughlin said his girlfriend drinks Sparks, the hybrid formula of alcohol, caffeine and taurine.

“She drinks them and doesn’t realize how drunk she is, and then she’s flying off the handle,” Coughlin said.

Ritter explained that energy drinks alone could cause problems. Red Bull is a combination of caffeine and the amino acid, taurine, which acts to speed up the metabolism.

“Combining them is a potent stimulant,” Ritter said. In France, Denmark and Norway, Red Bull is only available in pharmacies, and the combination of Red Bull and alcohol can cause abnormal heart rhythms, which is particularly dangerous for those who are already vulnerable to cardiovascular problems.

Benicia Peters, 23, a senior history major said she has a friend who drinks a lot of Red Bulls, so that’s what she drinks when she goes out.

“It’s like taking speed and getting really drunk,” Benicia said. “It gets you really messed up.”

Casey Doward, 19, junior international relations major, said vodka mixed with Red Bull not only tastes good, but it’s a nice upper.

“If you’re plastered, you’re not all sloppy,” Doward said.

But drinking Red Bull with alcohol can be deceiving.

“The stimulant effects of Red Bull can mask some of the general indicators that a person is too intoxicated to drive. In reality, the effects of the alcohol that make driving dangerous are still there,” Ritter said.

People who drink energy drinks with alcohol may also be prone to drinking more, said Ritter. They may not feel the slowing down effects of the alcohol so they order another drink or take another shot believing they are not drunk.

Patrick Harwood, 24, senior BECA major, said he drinks Red Bull mixed with alcohol if he’s feeling bored or unhappy.

“I don’t think it works,” Harwood said. “It doesn’t change your happiness.”

The combination of alcohol and caffeine, both diuretics, increases the toxicity of the alcohol. Because of the effects of two diuretics combined, liquids move through a person’s body faster so the alcohol is not as diluted.

Since hangovers are a result of dehydration, the diuretic effects of both caffeine and Red Bull may cause worse hangovers after a night of drinking.

“Alcohol itself is dehydrating. When you include a high level of caffeine, a person is going to be more dehydrated,” Ritter said.

Even though Casey Doward knows the dangers of mixing alcohol with Red Bull, he said it wouldn’t stop him from drinking it.

“At the end of the night, its just another drink,” Doward said.

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PHOTO
Joanne Toth | staff photographer
Debra Sullivan, bartender of 27 years and part owner of The Philosopher's Club at 824 Ulloa street in West Portal, serves the popular energy drink Rockstar and Vodka mix to customers.

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