Saturday, May 19, 2012

Just How Dangerous Are Alcohol/Energy Drink Combinations?

Recently, there has been a great deal of scare stories regarding the supposed dangers of alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AMEDs for short).  In 2010 this led to the banning of premixed canned AMEDs such as the notorious Four Loko, which still is on the market but without the caffeine and taurine.  Of course, drinkers (and bartenders) are free (for now at least) to mix energy drinks with alcohol after obtaining them separately.  But are such fears (and laws based on them) actually warranted, or are they exaggerated?

A recent review of the scientific literature on the topic of AMEDs suggests that the dangers have been greatly exaggerated.  After surveying numerous studies of the effects of combining the two beverages, the authors concluded that there was, contrary to popular opinion:
  • virtually no hard evidence that adding energy drinks to the mix significantly alters the behavioral effects of alcohol
  • no reliable evidence that energy drinks significantly affect the perceived level of intoxication by drinkers
  • zero evidence that mixing energy drinks with alcohol increases the odds of alcohol or drug abuse or dependence, and
  • no significant adverse health effects for healthy individuals from combining energy drinks and alcohol in moderation.
Of course, it should go without saying that both alcohol and energy drinks, alone or in combination, can indeed be harmful when consumed to excess.  Also, one should always remember that caffeine (in energy drinks or otherwise) does not make a drunk person less impaired or more able to drive.  The best take-home message from all this is that moderation is the key.

In the case of Four Loko and similar drinks, it appears that the real issue was not that it contained alcohol and caffeine in combination, but rather that it contained such large amounts of each per can.  One 23-ounce can apparently contained the equivalent of 5 shots of vodka and 3 cans of Red Bull, and typically cost less than $3.00.  Such cheap and highly potent concoctions don't exactly promote moderation.  But unfortunately that fact was lost in all the hysteria over alcohol and energy drinks.

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