Four Lokos, Vodka & Red Bull Cocktails, Rockstars … and the list of alcoholic energy drinks is increasing. To the young, college student this sounds like the ideal alcoholic beverage to get them through a late night of partying, however the side effects and risks of mixing caffeine and alcohol can be alarming.
When caffeine and alcohol are consumed together, it sends mixed signals to your brain. The caffeine keeps you awake and your cognitive abilities unimpaired, therefore masking signs of intoxication and leading to an increase in alcohol intake. These energy-alcoholic beverages have led to many cases of overconsumption and alcohol poisoning. Often, these cases involve kids on college campuses.
The drinks pose a risk of engaging in harmful activities due to the belief that a person is not as intoxicated as they think they are. Also, the drinks are a possible risk factor for alcoholism, due to the capability of people to continue drinking with the caffeinated supplement.
However, there has not been intensive investigations into the effects of combining caffeine and alcohol. The few studies that utilize behavioral control measures (e.g. go-no-go, stop-signal tasks) report mixed findings, indicating that caffeine, when mixed with alcohol, improves alcohol-related detriment on some measures of behavioral control, while having no effect, or even worsening performance, on others. (1) Therefore, allowing the alcohol/energy drink companies to continue to sell these drinks and release statements on the psychological high of their products.
I was strongly against alcoholic energy drinks after learning the amount of alcoholic overdoses last year took place due to these drinks. However, it is interesting to hear how it might not be causing the intoxicated behavior, but rather people are not monitoring their alcohol intake. Either way, I believe the drinks are risky, especially for inexperienced drinkers. Also, the way the drinks are advertised is enabling binge drinking and excessive consumption. I think it is important for the companies to release statements on the effect the drinks have on your cognitive abilities. The FDA should also regulate the amount of caffeine and alcohol in each drink.
Nonetheless, until there is more research studying the effects of the combination of alcohol and caffeine, it is important to be aware that it can lead people to believe they are less intoxicated than they really are and to drink casually.
1. Attwood, Angela. “Caffeinated Alcohol Beverages”. Alcohol and Alcoholism: 2012;47(4):370-371. Medscape: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/766631.
2. Goodnough, Abby. Caffeine and Alcohol Drink Is Potent Mix for Young. NY Times: 10/26/12. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/us/27drink.html