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Alcohol, Energy Drinks, and Caffeine: What are the Risks?

Last Updated on May 13, 2022

energy drink can on a ledge

Combining alcohol and energy drinks together has become a popular drinking trend in recent years, but it isn’t without its dangers. Alcoholic energy drinks (AEDs) or caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs) are premixed beverages that not only contain alcohol but also caffeine and other stimulants such as taurine. A typical AED or CAB beverage contains about as much caffeine as a large cup of coffee, along with stimulant additives like guarana and ginseng that can speed up the central nervous system. AEDs have become popular due in part to their generally high alcohol content, which may sometimes run as high as 12% Alcohol by Volume (ABV) as compared with 5% ABV for a typical can or bottle of beer. Added to the fact that they are marketed in large part toward teens and young adults, this can be an unhealthy, often dangerous combination. [1]

Understanding the Risks of AEDs and CABs

While anyone can buy alcoholic energy drinks as long as they are of legal drinking age, it’s wise to be careful because the combination of alcohol and caffeine can have adverse effects.

Uncertainty Regarding Caffeine Dosage

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations do require beverage companies to list caffeine in the ingredients list on product labels; however, because caffeine is considered a dietary supplement there is no specific FDA requirement to list the precise amount of caffeine that is present in a product. In general, all people who consume highly concentrated caffeinated products should be aware of the high potency of these products. Parents should be aware that teenagers and young adults may be drawn to these products for their perceived benefits and may not recognize their risks, particularly when alcohol is added to the mix. [2][3]

Depressants and Stimulants Don’t Mix

Caffeine has long been used as a stimulant to help users feel more alert and aware during times of drowsiness. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant that makes consumers feel more relaxed or at ease. When the two are combined, the stimulant nature of caffeine will often mask the depressant effects of alcohol, which can lead someone to feel like they are more sober and less impaired than they actually are. Contrary to popular belief, consuming large amounts of caffeine will not have any effect on the way that alcohol is metabolized by a person’s body, and it can not be used to “sober” someone up in a shorter period of time. [4]

Related post: Prescription Stimulants | Abuse, Detox, Withdrawal, Treatment

An Increased Risk of Alcohol Poisoning

Because mixing caffeine with alcohol can lead to a higher risk of alcohol overdose given that a person may not immediately feel the entirety of the effects of the alcohol that has been consumed, it is important to be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning and act immediately.

Get help right away if someone shows signs of the following:

  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • No gag reflex
  • Difficulty staying awake
  • An inability to wake up
  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Low body temperature
  • Cold, blue, pale, or clammy skin

Alcoholic Energy Drinks and Other Risky Behaviors

The consumption of AEDs has been linked to a number of additional risky behaviors, and the mixing of alcoholic beverages with caffeine has been identified as a public health problem among young adults; in particular, college-age students tend to consume more AEDs and remain at a higher risk of the following alcohol-related consequences: [4][5]

  • Heavier than usual drinking
  • Heavy episodic (binge) drinking
  • Alcohol-related physical injury
  • Sexual risk-taking (casual and/or intoxicated sex)
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Driving while intoxicated

Related post: The Lure Of Anti-Energy Drinks

Need Someone to Talk to About AED use?

If you or someone you know have experienced the negative effects of AED consumption or believe that you may have developed problematic drinking habits and need additional support to help you stop drinking, please call Nova Recovery Center at (888) 427-4932 or contact us online today.

References:

  1. Dangers of mixing alcohol with caffeine and energy drinks | CDC
  2. Highly Concentrated Caffeine in Dietary Supplements Guidance for Industry (fda.gov)
  3. FDA Warns Consumers About Pure and Highly Concentrated Caffeine | FDA
  4. Caffeine and Alcohol: How They Interact (healthline.com)
  5. College Students’ Use of Alcohol and Energy Drinks (buffalo.edu)

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