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Energy Drinks Lead to Wide-Awake Drunks

In the U.S., significant numbers of teenagers and (typically young) adults combine high-caffeine beverages called energy drinks with alcohol. This combination can seriously endanger a person’s health and well-being. In a study published in June 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis used laboratory experiments on mice to conduct a detailed examination of the impact that caffeine has on an alcohol-intoxicated state. These researchers concluded that caffeine’s effect on alcohol intoxication can substantially increase the dangers associated with being drunk.
Energy Drinks Lead to Wide-Awake Drunks

Energy Drinks and Caffeine

As the term implies, energy drinks are commonly marketed for their ability to do such things as boost energy levels, increase mental focus and enhance athletic performances. Compared to the average caffeinated soda, an energy drink typically contains extremely large amounts of caffeine or a caffeine equivalent like the South American plant called guarana. For example, while a highly caffeinated soda like Mountain Dew may contain as much as 55 mg of caffeine in each serving, even a relatively weak energy drink can easily contain as much as 75 mg of caffeine in a serving. The strongest energy drinks contain roughly three times this much caffeine or caffeine equivalent. Widely distributed brands of these drinks in the U.S. include 5-Hour Energy, Red Bull, Rock Star and Monster.

Consumption With Alcohol

Energy drinks pose a number of risks when consumed on their own, including substantial changes in cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) function, sleeping pattern disruptions and medically significant levels of dehydration. When a person consumes these drinks with alcohol, a couple of additional potential problems arise. First, since caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, an intoxicated person with large amounts of caffeine in his or her system may not subjectively feel as drunk as he or she would otherwise. In turn, lack of accurate perception of drunkenness can easily lead to dangerous levels of alcohol overconsumption. Current scientific evidence confirms the tendency among caffeine-using drinkers to increase their alcohol intake and develop higher blood-alcohol levels than drinkers who don’t simultaneously consume caffeine. In addition, alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, just like energy drink consumption. A person who combines the two substances can experience more severe forms of dehydration than a person who only consumes alcohol or only consumes energy drinks.

Specific Impact on Intoxication

In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the researchers used a pre-established approach to alcohol-related mouse testing called Drinking in the Dark to explore the specific impact of large amounts of caffeine in a person intoxicated by alcohol. Drinking in the Dark is designed to mimic the effects of binge drinking, a practice that involves drinking enough alcohol to achieve a blood-alcohol level of at least 0.08 percent (the U.S. standard for legal drunkenness) in no more than two hours. The researchers added caffeine to the normal doses of alcohol used during Drinking in the Dark and looked for changes in aspects of intoxication that included impaired mental function, a decline in voluntary muscle control, a declining ability to move about freely and a decreased level of anxiety.

The researchers confirmed the fact that the presence of caffeine in the body does not reduce the amount of alcohol circulating in the bloodstream. In addition, they concluded that caffeine does not make an intoxicated person more anxious or change his or her overall level of mental impairment. However, they also concluded that an intoxicated person who consumes large amounts of caffeine can reach a state of wakefulness almost as profound as that found in caffeine consumers who have not taken a drink. In addition, they concluded that an intoxicated person who consumes large amounts of caffeine can experience a significant improvement in his or her ability to control voluntary muscle movements.

All told, the study’s authors found that the combined impact of caffeine use and drunkenness can lead to a dangerous mental state that features some of the key deficits of intoxication, as well as a considerable “masking” effect that essentially conceals important aspects of intoxication. They note that many people who combine caffeine and alcohol actually seek out this mental state, and also express the importance of recognizing this behavior as a serious hazard to the health of the individual and to health of the public in general.

Posted on August 4th, 2014
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

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