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Alcohol and Energy Drinks: An Unrecognized Danger

What if there was a way to feel intoxicated and wide-awake at the same time? What if a drinker could party until dawn without feeling the fatigue brought on by alcohol consumption? Would this be enticing for young drinkers? Would this help perpetuate the belief that they are ten feet tall and bulletproof? That is the expectation many drinkers have from mixing alcohol with the 250 or more energy drink brands currently sold and consumed in the United States.

The potential danger associated with the consumption of energy drinks has been widely reported in the popular press and in scientific papers in recent years. The contention held by some scientists is that the ingredients in these drinks, including Taurine and other stimulants, can be hazardous. These risks, as significant as they seem to be, may actually pale in comparison to the physical and emotional risks posed by mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol has become a popular and common occurrence. Young drinkers use energy drinks in anticipation of reducing the depressant effects of alcohol and allowing them to party longer (Marczinski & Fillmore, 2006). When mixed together, these beverages are commonly referred to as “Vodka Bulls,” “Red Bombs,” “Jager Bombs” (Jagermeister and Red Bull), and other similar names. The popular press reports that 90% ninety percent of young adult drinkers under age twenty-five consume energy drinks. More that 25% combine alcohol with energy drinks (FDA News Release, 2009) and approximately 78% had consumed energy drinks with alcohol in the past month (Thombs, O’Mara, Tsukamoto, Rossheim, Weiler, Merves, & Goldberger, 2009). Drinkers of alcohol mixed with energy drinks report that they feel more alert, more coordinated, and generally more sober than other drinkers do. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Young drinkers use energy drinks in two different ways. Some drinkers pre-load with energy drinks alone consuming three, four, or even five energy drinks before their night of partying. Their intent in doing so is to stave off the fatigue and other depressive effects of the alcohol they will consume later. These drinkers believe they can party longer by amping up their system. Other drinkers use energy drinks as an alcohol mixer in the traditional sense hoping that the ingestion of caffeine and other stimulants along with alcohol will reduce or reverse the depressant effects of the alcohol as they drink.

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