Energy Drinks + Alcohol = ???

It was 1972. Our 3 South dorm hallway was the site. The football game wasn’t until 1:00 p.m., but at 7:30 a.m. we were filling a metal tub with every alcoholic beverage (and who knows what else) known to humankind.

I’m not a judgmental prude. Been there, done that regarding many not-so-good-for-you things. And the fact that I’m almost 27 years sober is meaningless in terms of what others do with theirs lives.

What you’re about to read is not an indictment of  Red Bull™, Jägermeister, any energy or alcoholic beverage, or you. It’s a straight-down-the-middle presentation of objective facts. Much the same as the series I did on cannabis. Click here to read Part 2.

Funny, I used one of my college experiences in that piece as well.

The Energy Drink/Alcohol One-Two Punch

Alcohol + Energy Drinks

The wildly popular one-two energy drink/alcohol punches (clever?) are getting quite a bit of bad press. Oh, the harm to self and others due to excessive intoxication and impulsive behavior!

But is there a proven cause-and-effect relationship here? Are the effects of an energy drink/alcohol punch really any worse than those of alcohol alone?

Interesting Research

After virtually no research on the matter, along comes a new study. Its results will be published in the July 2011 edition of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The work was done at Northern Kentucky University – psychology professor Cecile A. Marczinski being the lead author.

The results? Comparing levels of intoxication – alcohol alone vs. energy drinks/alcohol: an energy drink/alcohol punch definitely enhanced feelings of what the study referred to as stimulation. How ’bout we translate that as the perception of impairment?

Key, though, is the fact that the energy drink add-on did not alter levels of impairment. Hence, it had no impact upon impulsive behavior due to impairment.

In her comments, Marczinski makes an interesting observation. Could it be that drinkers who traditionally exhibit impulsive and risky behavior – who are more likely to consume an energy drink/alcohol punch – are the ones causing all the problems and bad press?

So it isn’t about the punch itself – these individuals would behave the same drinking alcohol alone.

The research take-aways…

  • Though not levels of impairment, an energy drink add-on definitely altered reactions to alcohol.
  • These altered reactions were grounded in a sensation of enhanced stimulation (perception of impairment).
  • In specific contexts – for reasons still unknown – the impact of this enhanced stimulation upon impulsive and risky behavior may lead to major problems (and innocent victims).

The Bottom-Line

Here’s my gut based upon my own research (which obviously didn’t include partaking). I came across nothing that would have me recommend the cessation of an energy drink/alcohol punch to a family member or friend – with two major exceptions (to come).

I looked-into the active ingredients of Red Bull™ – taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, B vitamins, sucrose, and glucose. In sugar-free Red Bull™ – aspartame, acesulfame K, and sucralose in place of sucrose and glucose.

And I considered the aperitif Jägermeister.

No red flags caught my attention. Now, it was discovered in 2009 that Red Bull™ Cola exported from Austria contained trace amounts of cocaine. But my reading indicated you’d have to drink millions of cans to have realized any effect or danger.

For Those Enduring an Emotional or Mental Health Disorder

Oh, that exception. Sure, everything I’ve come across wouldn’t lead me to recommend to a family member or friend that he/she cease doing, say, Jägerbombs. But I can tell you I frequently receive emails from individuals enduring a mood or anxiety disorder testifying to some strange and inexplicable goings-on upon using alcohol, cannabis, etc.

If said friend or family member had a history of impulsive/risky behavior upon consuming alcohol – or was enduring a mood or anxiety disorder – I’d say, “Why tempt fate?”

By the way, cases of teen alcoholism may become even more complicated when a teenage alcoholic starts to experiment mixing alcohol with other substances.

So as it so often is, it’s all about awareness and insight into your history, vulnerabilities, and limits. And a bit of common sense goes a loooong way.

What are your experiences with an energy drink/alcohol punch? Won’t you share?