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Energy Drinks and Alcohol: A Dangerous Mix
By Jamie Becker
Energy drinks are beverages that typically contain caffeine, other plant-based stimulants, simple sugars and other additives. Sales of energy drinks have soared in recent years. In the U.S., sales increased 60 percent between 2008 and 2012. It is estimated that 68 percent of adolescents, 30 percent of adults and 18 percent of children under the age of 10 consume the beverages.
With the increase in energy drink consumption, there has also been a concerning trend in people mixing energy drinks with alcohol. It is reported that 71 percent of adults aged 18-29 who consume energy drinks also mix them with alcohol.
Energy drinks and alcohol come with their own set of health and safety concerns, especially when a high volume is consumed. Combining alcohol and energy drinks together can also be a recipe for disaster. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of premixed alcoholic energy drinks such as Four Loco, saying they’re unsafe, but it’s easy for people to just mix their own.
Health Effects of Energy Drinks
Most energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine, which can provide a temporary energy boost. Some energy drinks contain sugar and other substances. The boost is short-lived, however, and may be accompanied by other problems.
For example, energy drinks that contain sugar may contribute to weight gain – and too much caffeine, or caffeine-like substances, can lead to:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
Over the last several years, various small studies have been conducted to examine the effects of combining alcohol and energy drinks, specifically the caffeine in energy drinks combined with alcohol. While relatively small in sample size, the studies have each come to similar conclusions.
A major concern is that mixing energy drinks with alcohol can lead to “wide-awake drunkenness,” where caffeine masks the feeling of drunkenness but does not decrease actual alcohol-related impairment. As a result, mixing energy drinks with alcohol causes someone to drink more than if they had consumed alcohol alone. Not feeling as drunk as you really are can lead to:
- Increased risky behavior such as drunk driving, fighting or unprotected sex
- Increased risk for alcohol poisoning
- Increased emergency room visits
- Increased binge drinking
In addition, combining energy drinks with alcohol can have potential negative health effects such as:
- Elevated heart rate, blood pressure and sugar levels
- Seizures or convulsions
- Nervousness/irritability/mood swings
- Dehydration which can contribute to really bad hangovers
- Sleep interruptions/insomnia
- Kidney strain
- Adolescent brain damage
Impact on a Jobsite
Although drinking alcohol on its own can contribute to a hangover, people who consume alcohol with energy drinks are even more likely to be hung over. “Being hung over on the job can lessen a worker’s ability to concentrate and have a negative impact on balance and reflexes,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “It can also make you more irritable, drowsy or cause you to work at a slower pace, which can be frustrating to those around you.”
Workers should keep this in mind before combining energy drinks and alcoholic beverages, especially if they will be working within the next 24 hours. It goes without saying that drinking any alcohol right before work or during work hours is not encouraged and is likely a violation of most, if not all, drug-free workplace policies.
If you or someone you know may have a problem with alcohol there are many resources available to help.
- Employee Assistance Program – check with your employer or Health and Welfare Fund about availability
- Benefit plans through LIUNA Health and Welfare Funds
- Community services/resources
- Self-help groups
If you don’t know where to begin, you can always reach out to your Business Agent(s) or Business Manager(s) for assistance. The following websites may be able to provide support or assist in locating support:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA Health Promotion Division’s Associate Director.]