Study finds dangers in energy drinks with booze
December 6, 2007 9:31 AM
Alcohol can be twice as dangerous when mixed with an energy drink, according to a new study published two weeks ago by Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Although health officials have known for some time that energy drinks mixed with alcohol were dangerous, the study was one of the first to provide statistical evidence. It showed that students who consumed these energy drink cocktails were about twice as likely to be involved in alcohol-related accidents and injuries than drinking alcohol alone. They were also more likely to be involved in sexual assault or drunk driving.
“[An energy drink] masks the level of intoxication. It combats the drowsy feeling of alcohol and people feel they can drink more,” said Michael Ritter, coordinator of SF State’s CEASE, an organization that helps students deal with alcohol and substance abuse.
Ritter said energy drinks mixed with alcohol can affect drinkers in many harmful ways. Energy drinks contain a high level of caffeine, much more so than coffee-based alcoholic drinks. Both caffeine and alcohol act on the central nervous system, but in different ways—caffeine acts as a stimulant, alcohol as a depressant—that when combined, the two substances give drinkers a sense of being alert while drunk.
Another danger is alcohol and energy drinks both serve as diuretics, so drinkers can get severely dehydrated. Also, the large amount of sugar found in most energy drinks speeds up the absorption of alcohol, which gets people drunk faster, in the same way drinking on an empty stomach would.
These drinks have been available several ways, either by mixing an energy drink and alcohol at a bar, or as pre-mixed in a can and sold at stores. However, canned alcohol energy drinks can pose more of a risk to excessive drinking because they are cheaper and more convenient than bar cocktails.
Some popular canned energy drinks with alcohol currently on the market include Sparks, Tilt, Bud Extra, Liquid Charge, and Hyphy Joose. The Miller Brewing Company and Anheuser-Busch, which own several of the alcoholic energy drink brands mentioned, declined to comment.
The alcohol content in these drinks range from 6 percent to 9 percent, with the highest being Hyphy Joose, which contains 9.9 percent. That means these drinks have a higher alcohol content than most beers (Budweiser, Coors, and Miller all have an alcohol content of about 5 percent).
The majority of these drinks contain ingredients that are typically found in regular energy drinks, like caffeine, taurine and ginseng. Most are infused with alcohol to make the drink become a malt beverage, similar to Smirnoff Ice or Mike’s Hard Lemonade. However, like beers, malt beverages have only about 5 percent alcohol.
Some efforts are already under way to bring awareness to the danger of these drinks.
Last month, Rockstar Energy Drink discontinued its Rockstar 21 product, which contained 6 percent alcohol. Some speculated that it was a response to repeated complaints of youth mistaking the drink for its non-alcoholic counterpart, according to a press release by the California Coalition on Alcopops and Youth.
The coalition is urging other beverage companies to follow Rockstar’s lead and pull their alcoholic energy drinks off the market. Even though Rockstar still sells other alcoholic versions of its energy drinks outside the United States, the coalition said it felt that was a major step forward.
Also, earlier this year, 30 attorneys general criticized Anheuser-Busch, urging the company to be more responsible, resulting in the company taking its alcoholic energy drink, Spykes, which contained 12 percent alcohol content, off the market.
David Phares, 23, a criminal justice major at SF State, said he once bought alcoholic energy drinks and had enjoyed them. “It tasted like Monster [energy drink] with alcohol,” said the criminal justice major, who said he got drunk after drinking three cans of Sparks. “I would drink it again,” he said.
Not all agreed with Phares.
“It tasted terrible. I got it once and I never got it again,” said Joshua Jarvis, 24, a creative writing major, who said he tried Sparks a couple of years ago. When asked if the drink should be taken off the market, Jarvis answered, “I wouldn’t drink it, but other people can. I don’t care.”
Nena Manivong, 22, an SF State psychology major, said she has never drank any canned alcoholic energy drinks, but occasionally drinks Jagermeister with a Red Bull, either as a mixed drink, or using Red Bull as a chaser. “I don’t really like the taste. I just take it to get buzzed,” she said.
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