An energy drink is a popular beverage that usually contains high caffeine levels, often combined with other ingredients, such as sugar, taurine, guarana, ginseng, B vitamins, and other additives. Manufacturers widely tout them as a safe and effective way to boost mental alertness and energy.
Over the last few years, the energy drink market has surged, growing upwards of 60% from 2008 to 2012—and the popularity of these highly-caffeinated drinks is not expected to diminish any time soon. According to research, the global energy drinks market is predicted to reach nearly $85 billion by 2025.
Among of the most common brand names in the energy drink market include the following:
- 5-Hour Energy
- CELSIUS Energy
- HiBall Energy
- Mountain Dew Amp
- Red Bull
- Zevia Energy Drink
Each energy drink contains anywhere between 40-240mg. And although energy drinks might increase mental alertness for a few hours, they have also been known to cause heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), anxiety, jitteriness, increased blood pressure, and blood thickening. A study published in the Journal of Medical Cases (2015) found that consuming energy drinks can cause cardiac arrest.
Effects Combing Energy Drinks and Alcohol
As energy drinks have continued to spike in popularity across the U.S., they’ve also been associated with a new trend—mixing them with alcohol. This combination has allowed drinkers to come up with a host of new flavorful beverages that mask the feelings of being intoxicated while keeping drinkers up and alert for hours. Despite the growing fandom, especially among teenagers and young adults in the nightlife scene, mixing energy drinks and alcohol can be dangerous and, in rare instances, lethal.
The side effects of energy drinks can be problematic enough on their own, and combining them with alcohol can make for a dangerous, toxic cocktail. Alcohol acts in the body as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain activity. Conversely, caffeine and other ingredients in energy drinks work as stimulants, inducing the opposite effect.
The energy drink’s effects will somewhat counteract the sedative nature of alcohol, tricking users into feeling more awake and less inebriated than they actually are. This combined effect is oft-referred by researchers as wide-awake drunk, and it can be hazardous. Although individuals may feel more alert due to the caffeine boost they receive from the energy drink, their body is still experiencing the intoxicating effects of alcohol.
As a result, individuals often consume more than they intended to without realizing that their judgment, decision-making, and coordination skills are being compromised. Experts have found that drinking alcohol in conjunction with an energy drink creates a false sense of security. This is responsible for making users three times more likely to binge drink and four times more likely to drive drunk.
Additionally, those who consume a mixture of alcohol and caffeinated beverages put themselves at a higher risk for alcohol poisoning, caffeine overdose, and engagement in risky behaviors. While it is relatively uncommon, caffeine overdoses do happen, and such an event can prove fatal.
Signs of a caffeine overdose include the following:
- Jitters and restlessness
- Increased heart rate
- Heart palpitations
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest Pain
- Breathing issues
Consuming above the daily recommended dose of 400 mg of caffeine can induce the aforementioned side effects. And, they are much more likely to occur when consuming energy drinks in conjunction with alcohol.
Teenagers and Young Adults Are at High Risk
The number of emergency department visits involving energy drinks has doubled in recent years. The majority of these visits included teenagers and young adults. Additionally, about 28% of college students are likely to experiment with combining energy drinks and alcohol each month.
This mixture’s popularity, combined with the prevalence of binge drinking among teenagers and college-aged adults, makes for a dangerous combination. Those who engage in these behaviors place themselves at risk and put those around them in danger by being increasingly likely to engage in risky behaviors like driving while under the influence, getting into physical altercations, or being sexually aggressive.
According to a study conducted by Purdue University, teenagers and young adults who consume alcohol and energy drinks in combination trigger a brain response not unlike that of cocaine. While it might feel good momentarily, this cocktail can induce brain chemistry changes that persist into adulthood and alter the mind’s ability to experience pleasure—making activities that are supposed to be rewarding feel uninteresting.
For this reason, many makers that produced premixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages, such as Four Loko, were subsequently asked to take their products off the market in their current form by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration.) Since then, many of these popular beverages have reappeared on the market minus caffeine and other stimulating but potentially hazardous ingredients.
Are Energy Drinks and Alcohol Okay to Consume Together?
While consuming alcohol and energy drinks together is never advisable, bartenders will often still mix them when requested. For those who do insist on consuming energy drinks and alcohol together, the following practices should be followed:
Monitor your drinking. The biggest problem with combining caffeine with alcohol is that consumers may think they are still sober when they are not. Keeping close track of how much you are drinking can limit this problem.
Check caffeine and other stimulant content before drinking. High amounts of caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants can cause harm to the brain and body. Double-checking what is inside a beverage before drinking it could help avoid uncomfortable or dangerous side effects.
Eat plenty of food and drink water. The presence of food in the body will help slow the rate of alcohol absorption and can help keep down alcohol levels in the bloodstream. Water helps drinkers to remain hydrated.
The sheer number of individuals who mix energy drinks with or without alcohol can make the practice seem harmless. However, combining these two can come with complications and unpredictable risks, especially for teenagers and young adults.
And of course, alcohol is illegal to consume in the U.S. for those under age 21. Teenagers should avoid drinking illicitly for several reasons, including to prevent brain chemistry changes that can persist in adulthood and increase the likelihood of alcohol or drug addiction.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
If you or someone you know has been unable to stop consuming energy drinks and alcohol despite attempts to do so, you may find it vital to seek professional help.
Just Believe Recovery center offers state-of-the-art addiction treatment programs that include a variety of services clinically-proven for the recovery process, such as psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, 12-step program peer group support, health and wellness education, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and more.