Cocktails that mix energy drinks and alcohol are very popular, but past research has found that the caffeine in energy drinks masks the effects of intoxication, often causing people to consume more than they would if they were drinking other types of alcoholic beverages.
Now, a recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research shows that mixing energy drinks with booze can actually increase a person’s urge to drink. This combination—a suppressed feeling of intoxication and a greater impulse to drink—can lead people to down larger, and sometimes deadly, amounts of alcohol.
In addition, a study published in Advances in Nutrition early this year notes that the issues with these drinks go beyond just their impact on individuals. Researchers found that the high levels of caffeine make drinkers appear more in control than their intoxication level indicates, and this false sense of security may be linked to riskier choices. In fact, people who mix energy drinks with alcohol are four times more likely to think they can safely drive compared to other drinkers, greatly increasing the chances that they will choose to get behind the wheel. The effects of the caffeine may also make their impairment less obvious to law enforcement officers during a checkpoint or stop, even though it doesn’t make them any less of a danger on the road.
Pre-packaged alcoholic energy drinks came under fire several years ago because of concerns about their marketing and health effects. For example, critics argued that brands like Four Loko targeted teens with their fruity flavors, and many consumers weren’t aware of the dangers of combining high levels of caffeine—a stimulant—with alcohol. Communities began banning the drinks, and after the FDA got involved they were largely pulled from the market.
But energy drinks are one of the fastest-growing segments of the beverage market, and their popularity as a mixer with alcohol doesn’t seem likely to decline anytime soon.