Alcohol energy drinks are premixed beverages containing not only alcohol but caffeine and other stimulants. Marketed to teens, often through social media, college campuses and grassroots efforts using youth-oriented slogans, these drinks have a very high alcohol content, some as high as 12% as compared to 5% for a typical can of beer.
According to NCADD, a major concern is that mixing energy drinks with alcohol can lead to “wide-awake drunkenness,” where caffeine masks the feeling of drunkenness but does not decrease actual alcohol-related impairment. As a result, you feel less drunk than you really are, which can lead to consumption of even more alcohol or engaging in risky activities like drunk driving.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings to companies that the caffeine added to some of their alcoholic beverages makes the products unsafe with varied levels of success. Some products have been removed from the market; others will not be continued to be made but currently remain on the shelves. A lingering problem, however, is the lack of regulation on the amount of caffeine in energy drinks, and no requirements related to the labeling of contents or possible health risks. The caffeine content in these beverages is usually not listed on the can.
The alcohol energy drink mixing problem is not a new phenomenon. A 2007 study by Wake Forest University School of Medicine found that students who mixed alcohol and energy drinks had double the risk of being hurt or injured, requiring medical attention, driving with an intoxicated driver, being taken advantage of sexually, or taking advantage of another sexually. The study showed that while motor skills, visual reaction times and judgment are impaired by alcohol, students may not perceive exactly how intoxicated they are when also ingesting a stimulant.
The research continues. In 2015, investigators from Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center found teens aged 15-17 years old who mixed alcohol with energy drinks were four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder than a teen who had tried alcohol but never mixed it with an energy drink.
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