What Are Energy Drinks?
An energy drink is a type of beverage that contains high levels of caffeine in combination with other ingredients such as taurine, guarana, sugar and B vitamins. They are widely promoted as a safe and effective way to boost mental and physical stimulation.
Over the last decade, the energy drink market has skyrocketed, growing upwards of 60 percent from 2008 to 2012, and the popularity of these highly caffeinated beverages is not expected to slow any time soon. According to market research, the global energy drinks sector is expected to reach $84.8 billion by 2025.
Some of the most common brand names in the energy drink community are:
- Red Bull
- 5-Hour Energy
Each energy drink contains anywhere between 40 to 240 mg of caffeine in them. While they might increase mental alertness for a few hours, energy drinks have also been known to cause irregular heartbeat, anxiety, jitters, increased blood pressure and thickening of the blood.
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Additionally, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Medical Cases found that consuming energy drinks can induce cardiac arrest.
Effects Of Mixing Alcohol And Energy Drinks
The spike in the popularity of energy drinks has created a new trend in nightlife- combining energy drinks with alcohol. While the side effects of energy drinks are concerning enough on their own, mixing the highly caffeinated beverages with alcohol makes for a toxic concoction.
While alcohol works as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain and motor activity, the caffeine and other ingredients in energy drinks work as a stimulant. The stimulant effects of an energy drink will counteract the sedative nature of alcohol, tricking users into feeling more awake and less drunk than they really are. This effect is referred by researchers as wide-awake drunk.
Being wide-awake drunk can be dangerous. Although people may feel more alert due to the caffeine boost from the energy drink, the body is still feeling the effects of alcohol. People often end up drinking way more than they intended to without realizing that their judgment and coordination are being compromised. Researchers have found that drinking alcohol mixed with an energy drink creates a false sense of security that is responsible for making people four times more likely to want to drive home while intoxicated, as well as three times more likely to participate in binge drinking.
Additionally, those who drink a mixture of alcohol and caffeinated beverages put themselves at a higher risk for alcohol poisoning, alcohol overdose, participation in risky behaviors and caffeine overdose. While it is uncommon, caffeine overdose does happen, and it can be lethal.
Signs of a caffeine overdose are:
- Jitters, restlessness
- Increased heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Chest Pain
- Trouble breathing
Going above the daily recommended dose of 400 mg of caffeine a day can produce these uncomfortable side effects, and is much more likely when consuming energy drinks in combination with alcohol.
Teens And Young Adults Most At Risk
The amount of emergency room visits involving energy drinks has doubled in recent years- and the majority of these visits included teens and young adults. Additionally, about 28 percent of college students are likely to try mixing energy drinks and alcohol each month.
The popularity of this mixture combined with the prevalence of binge drinking among teens and college kids makes for a very unhealthy combination. Those that engage in these behaviors not only put themselves at risk, but they also put those around them at risk by being increasingly likely to participate in risky behaviors like driving while intoxicated, getting into a fight or acting sexually aggressive.
According to a study performed by Purdue University, teens and young adults that do drink alcohol and energy drinks together trigger a brain response similar to that of cocaine. While it might feel good momentarily, this mixture can cause changes in the brain’s chemistry that last into adulthood and alter the mind’s ability to feel pleasure, making things that are supposed to be good feel dull or boring.
For these reasons, many companies that produced premixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages, like Four Loko, were told in 2010 that their products could no longer stay on the market in their current form by the US Food and Drug Administration. Since then, many of these popular drinks have reappeared on the market sans caffeine and other stimulant ingredients.
Be Smart When Drinking Alcohol And Energy Drinks
While drinking alcohol and energy drinks together is not recommended, this doesn’t stop bartenders from making the combination when requested. For those that do consume energy drinks and alcohol together, the following practices are recommended:
- Keep track of drinking: The biggest problem with mixing caffeine with alcohol is that it will trick its consumers into thinking they’re sober when they’re actually not. Keeping track of drinking will limit this problem.
- Check caffeine and other stimulant content before consuming: High amounts of caffeine, sugar or other stimulants can hurt the brain and body. Double checking what is inside a drink before consuming it could help avoid uncomfortable side effects.
- Eat plenty of food: Food will help slow the rate of alcohol absorption and can limit alcohol consumption considerably.
Due to the sheer amount of people who mix energy drinks with alcohol, it can seem harmless to consume these two drinks together. However, combining these alcoholic and energy drinks can come with complicated and unpredictable risks, especially for teens and young adults.