There are many concerns regarding the health risks of combining alcohol and energy drinks. However, new findings revealed that the general public should be concerned about more than just the health risks. Combining alcohol with energy drinks could also lead to greater alcohol abuse, binge drinking and drunk driving. Researchers from Australian National University’s Centre for Research on Aging, Health and Well-being discovered that those who combined the two were more likely to drink more than those who only drank alcohol. The findings were published in the August 2014 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
Alcohol drinks vs. alcohol and energy drinks
Seventy-five participants were examined in the double-blind study. Forty-six were women, 29 were men and all were between 18 and 30 years old. The participants were randomly placed in one of two groups – alcohol only or alcohol and energy drinks. Thirty-nine participants were given 60 milliliters of vodka with soda to drink and 36 were given 60 milliliters of vodka with Red Bull Silver Edition to drink. The study authors used an Alcohol Urge Questionnaire 20 minutes before the experiment and 20 minutes after. Participants were also given a Biphasic Alcohol Effects Questionnaire, the Drug Effects Questionnaire and a breath alcohol concentration test after the experiment.
The overall finding was that people who combine alcohol and energy drinks are more inclined to continue drinking, unlike their friends who abstained from energy drinks. However, many variables affect whether a person continues to keep drinking throughout the night.
Energy drink and alcohol risks
The researchers speculated on their findings. They believe that if the combination does lead to binge drinking, it could increase a series of risks. People who become intoxicated often are more likely to continue that cycle down the road. Regular binge drinking and intoxication raises people’s risk of alcohol-related car accidents and violence, public intoxication, injury and sexual assault.
The study also revealed most young adults consume greater amounts of alcohol at licensed venues. Researchers suggested policy makers need to get involved to address this issue. They hope their data will encourage restrictions on energy drinks in bars and other venues. The researchers also noted that the controversy surrounding energy drinks is warranted. Energy drinks correlate largely to health and behavior issues, causing Lithuania to ban energy drinks for anyone under 18. Though the study was conducted in Australia, the researchers noted the findings would be similar in the United States.
The study was only able to give participants a small amount of alcohol due to ethical restrictions. However, researchers stated most people consume much more on a regular night. If researchers can identify risks in a controlled study with only a small amount of alcohol in people’s systems, they cannot imagine the heightened risk in real-life situations.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 31 percent of people between ages 12 and 17 and 34 percent of people between ages 18 and 24 regularly consume energy drinks. Energy drinks’ caffeine masks the depressant effects of alcohol but does not mask breath alcohol concentrations.