Thursday, March 1, 2012

Energy Drinks and Alcohol: a Dangerous Combo

Dangers of Combining Energy Drinks and Alcohol
Many people, particularly adolescent and young adult students and athletes, are looking for ways to keep pushing, stay awake, and fit more into each hour. In the past, many looked to soft drinks for an extra boost, but energy drinks, which typically contain about three times the caffeine of a cola at around 70 to 80 mg, are now gaining popularity. An energy "shot" may contain about five times the caffeine found in an 8-ounce cola. The upper limit for caffeine in soft drinks is 200 parts per million, but energy drinks have bypassed this limit because they are typically labeled as "natural dietary supplements."

Caffeine Fast Facts

Caffeine constricts blood vessels, including those in the heart and head. It also makes the body's insulin less sensitive. In addition, the added calories of energy drinks may contribute to obesity and the consumption of "empty" calories. Many people become accustomed to consuming caffeine and need higher amounts to stay awake or alert.

Caffeine can cause side effects such as being jittery and anxious while headache and fatigue can result from withdrawing the substance if the person regularly consumes it. Caffeine intoxication or overdose may include symptoms such as tremor, fast heart rate, insomnia, abdominal pain and vomiting, low potassium levels, hallucinations, seizures, and even death. Those with heart conditions, eating disorders, or who are taking stimulants for conditions such as ADHD are particularly at risk for adverse effects from caffeine.

According to an American Academy of Pediatric article entitled "Kids Should Not Consume Energy Drinks, and Rarely Need Sports Drinks, Says AAP"energy drinks pose potential health risks because of the stimulants that they contain and should never be consumed by children or adolescents." According to a February 16, 2011 Medscape article "Energy Drinks Pose Serious Health Risk for Young People," children and adolescents should not consume more than 100mg total daily or 2.5mg/kg of caffeine in a day.

The Dangers of Combining Alcohol and Caffeine

Teens and young adults who consume caffeine combined with alcohol tend to have lower impulse control. Although the caffeine is a stimulant, it does not decrease impairment from alcohol or make a person more sober. On the contrary, drinking the two substances together makes the person less aware of the impairment and therefore more likely to drink and drive or take other potentially serious risks.

According to a November 13, 2009 press announcement by the FDA, several manufacturers pulled their alcoholic beverages that were mixed with caffeine. In order for a substance like caffeine to be legally added to a food or drink, the FDA must determine that it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) to do so. The FDA banned the addition of caffeine to alcoholic beverages in November 2010.

According to the Medscape article cited above, about one-third to one-half of teens and young adults consume energy drinks. Mixing alcohol and caffeine is not a new concept; however, energy drinks and energy shots have significantly increased the caffeine content above and beyond that of colas and soft drinks of the past. Over half of college students who drink energy drinks also drink alcohol, a combination that can have grave consequences.

Alcohol and Caffeine Can be Deadly Combination - Photo by Nathanael from Wikimedia Commons
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