Mixing energy drinks, such as Red Bull with alcohol is probably more hazardous than consuming alcohol alone, researchers from Northern Kentucky University revealed in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The authors explain that energy-drink cocktails have become fashionable and have been anecdotally associated with risky drinking practices, resulting in injuries and accidents. They add that there is not much research about comparing energy drinks plus alcohol with alcohol alone.

Their study measured intoxication levels among people who drank alcohol alone against those who had alcohol-energy drinks. Their participants said they felt more stimulated when having energy drinks mixed with alcohol. However, levels of impairment for impulsive behavior were not altered, the researchers found – suggesting that energy drinks mixed with alcohol may raise the risks linked to drinking.

Professor Cecile A. Marczinski, said:

“Young people are now drinking alcohol in different ways than they have in the past. Classic mixed drinks such as rum and coke have been replaced with mixed drinks that use energy drinks instead, such as yagerbombs and Red Bull™ and vodka.”

Director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Amelia M. Arria, said:

“We have sales data showing that energy drinks have gained in popularity, and we know anecdotally that this practice is popular, but we have little data on objective and subjective responses that support growing concern about the safety of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.”

Marczinski added:

“While consuming energy drinks with alcohol is thought of as a risky drinking practice, the laboratory evidence demonstrating this is quite limited. In fact, most of the evidence that consuming alcohol/energy drinks is risky comes from epidemiological studies that have reported an increased risk of accidents and injuries associated with their use. However, those studies do not address the key confound that risky drinkers, who are prone to drinking heavily anyways, are just attracted to these drinks since they are trendy. Our study was designed to demonstrate that alcohol/energy drinks are pharmacologically distinct from alcohol alone and are adding to the risks of drinking.”

Marczinski assigned 28 males and 28 females, aged 21 to 33 into four different groups:

  • 0.65 g/kg alcohol – the Alcohol Group
  • 3.57 ml/kg energy drink – The Energy Drink Group
  • Energy drink/alcohol – The Energy-Alcohol Group
  • A placebo beverage – The Placebo Group (no alcohol, no energy drink)

Their behaviors were gauged on a task that measures how rapidly they can perform and hold back actions after consuming their drinks. The participants were also asked about their feelings of impairment, sedation, stimulation and how intoxicated they felt.

Marczinski said:

“We found that an energy drink alters the reaction to alcohol that a drinker experiences when compared to a drinker that consumed alcohol alone. A consumer of alcohol, with or without the energy drink, acts impulsively compared to when they had not consumed alcohol. However, the consumer of the alcohol/energy drink felt more stimulated compared to an alcohol-alone consumer. Therefore, consumption of an energy drink combined with alcohol sets up a risky scenario for the drinker due to this enhanced feeling of stimulation and high impulsivity levels.”

Arria explained that the researchers noticed that adding energy drinks to the alcoholic cocktail did not alter impairment levels associated with drinking alcohol, but it did mask the consumer’s perception of impairment. In other words, the energy-alcohol combination drinker was more impaired than he/she realized – they were drunker than they thought they were.

Marczinski said:

“The findings from this study provide concrete laboratory evidence that the mixture of energy drinks with alcohol is riskier than alcohol alone. College students need to be aware of the risks of these beverages. Moreover, clinicians who are working with risky drinkers will need to try and steer their clients away from these beverages.”

Source: Northern Kentucky University

Written by Christian Nordqvist