Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Alcohol + Energy Drinks = Casual Sex?

The latest moral panic involving young people and alcohol is the idea that alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AMEDs for short) increases the odds of casual sex and/or drunk sex.  It was inevitable that this moral panic, like all others in history, would eventually be about sex.  But is it true?

A new study of college students found that those who mixed alcohol with energy drinks were statistically more likely to engage in casual sex and to be drunk during their most recent sexual encounter.  However, that correlation does not necessarily prove a causal relationship, especially since it is a cross-sectional study.  Even the author of the study acknowledges that.  And one bright spot of the study was that consuming AMEDs did not affect the likelihood of the students using condoms during their most recent sexual encounter.

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.

In fact, a recent Australian study of young adults surprisingly found that mixing alcohol with energy drinks actually resulted in less risk-taking behavior and disinhibition effects than drinking alcohol alone, despite the fact that more alcohol was consumed during the AMED sessions than in the alcohol-only sessions.  The reasons for this finding are not clear, but it certainly throws a monkey wrench into the specious claim that AMEDs lead to more risk taking than drinking plain alcohol. 

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) absolutely 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.

One should also note that despite the explosion in energy drinks (and mixing them with alcohol) over the past decade, teen pregnancy has recently reached a record low, and surveys do not show an increase in sexual activity among teenagers or young adults in the past 10-20 years (in fact they generally show decreases).  Thus, the fears of this moral panic appear to be largely unfounded.  But it's still wise for drinkers to always carry condoms with them on their nights out, just in case.

1 comment:

  1. It's always time to erode the moral panic about alcohol with caffeine and college students. It's good news that the study found that young women and young men who drink alcohol with caffeine are as likely as other college students to use a condom when having sex. I had a negative opinion of alcohol with caffeine but this study has made look the other way. From the study, people who drink alcohol with caffeine are similar in knowing their intoxication as people who drink alcohol without caffeine. This is important news because a big opinion against alcohol with caffeine says that those beverages give only a small feeling of intoxication. As the article pointed out, the rate of pregnancy among people under 25 is decreasing. This is good for all of us and young people.