Energy Drinks Plus Alcohol Equal Dangerous

Posted on February 28th, 2010
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Leave it to the college crowd to come up with the idea that mixing energy drinks with alcohol can let you party all night and not have a hangover in the morning. The problem is that’s a false assumption. Already hugely popular on their own, energy drinks contain ingredients such as caffeine, ginseng and taurine, all of which are stimulants. Alcohol is a depressant. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is not only a bad idea, it’s also dangerous.

Why the Appeal?

Clearly there’s a somewhat compelling reason why anyone would mix energy drinks with alcohol. So, what is it? Ask any semi-sober college student – or high school student, for that matter – and they’ll tell you it’s so they can drink longer and avoid nasty hangovers in the morning. But, as already stated, that doesn’t hold true.

One of the reasons why people get hangovers is dehydration. Alcohol causes dehydration. Caffeine, the principle ingredient in most energy drinks, is a diuretic, which further increases water loss. Mixing alcohol and energy drinks makes dehydration worse.

While drinking the combo, the individual experiences the feeling that he or she can, indeed, party all night long and sustain energy levels. The reality is that the hangover will just be worse in the morning.

What’s So Dangerous?

Okay, so you have a little hangover. No big deal, most would say. Hold on. It goes far beyond just a hangover.

High levels of caffeine can speed up heart rate and increase blood pressure. This can cause palpitations, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, it further increases the risk of problems with heart rhythm – a potentially fatal condition.

Other ingredients in energy drinks besides caffeine include one or more stimulants such as ginseng and taurine. It bears repeating that alcohol is a depressant. By mixing depressants and stimulants, you’re sending mixed signals to the body’s nervous system. All of this may lead to cardiac-related problems.

Alcohol also reduces reaction time and interferes with judgment. Caffeine creates a false sense of confidence and energy. Teens who drink alcohol and energy drinks together may think they’re capable of driving or performing other acts – which they cannot do safely.

There’s also the risk of a bad reaction when alcohol and energy drinks are used in combination. A person may have a pre-existing medical condition or have an allergic or adverse reaction to one (or more) of the stimulants in the energy drinks. Who reads labels when everyone says how great this or that energy drink is, anyway? The desire to go along with the crowd and get high and party often takes precedence over such due diligence.

It shouldn’t. Beyond issues of underage drinking, binge drinking, and what’s right and wrong, counselors who interact with college students caution that they only take one – not both – types of beverage. If they are of legal drinking age, only consume one or the other. Or, alternate them so as to minimize the damage of combining the substances.

Why would they recommend this? Why not say you shouldn’t drink either one, but especially not together? The simple fact is that the message to curb usage of the potentially deadly combo is more likely to register than a flat-out plea to stop it altogether.

Warnings about Energy Drinks

In October 2008, the National Federation of High School Federations (NFHS) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) issued an alert regarding athletes’ use of energy drinks. Their position included recommendations that:

  1. Water and appropriate sports drinks should be used for rehydration as outlined in the NFHS document “Position Statement and Recommendations for Hydration to Minimize the Risk for Dehydration and Heat Illness.”
  2. Energy drinks should not be used for hydration.
  3. Information about the absence of benefit and the presence of potential risks associated with energy drinks should be widely shared among all individuals who interact with young athletes.
  4. Energy drinks should not be consumed by athletes who are dehydrated.
  5. Energy drinks should not be consumed without prior medical approval, by athletes taking over the counter or prescription medications.

Popular Energy Drinks

Where there’s a target market, you can bet companies will seek to capitalize on it. In the case of energy drinks, there’s no shortage of candidate beverages to entice the party-hearty crowd. A report by the Marin Institute, based in Marin, California found that 500 new energy drinks were introduced worldwide in 2007. According to EnergyFiend, the top 15 energy drinks and percent of market share in 2008 included:

  • Red Bull – 40%
  • Monster – 23%
  • Rockstar – 12.3%
  • AMP – 8%
  • Full Throttle – 4%
  • Doubleshot – 2%
  • NOS – 1.5%
  • No Fear – 1.4%
  • Private Label – 1%
  • SOBE Adrenaline – 0.7%
  • Vitamin Energy – 0.5%
  • SOBE Lean – 0.5%
  • Venom – 0.44%
  • Jolt – 0.4%
  • Go Girl – 0.4%

Here is more detailed information a few of the major players, along with their list of contents, health risks and some other useful facts.

Red Bull

Hugely popular, Red Bull captivated the college crowd early and often with clever marketing campaigns and free samples at events ranging from extreme sports such as windsurfing, skateboarding, cliff diving, freestyle motocross and snowboarding, to break dancing, art shows, music, beach volleyball and spring breaks. Its marketing slogan is “Red Bull gives you wiings.” The product is aggressively marketed through advertising, sports team ownerships, tournament sponsorship (Red Bull Air Race), and celebrity endorsements. As a result, the energy drink, by manufacturer Red Bull GmbH, of Austria, has the largest market share of all energy drinks, and is touted as the most popular energy drink in the world. Red Bull was originally an energy drink from Thailand. In fact, its name Krating Daeng, literally translated, means Red Bull.

The energy drink entered its first foreign market, Hungary, in 1992 and later was introduced to the United States in 1997. Ingredients include B vitamins, caffeine, glucose and sucrose, glucuronolactone and taurine. In 2009, a small amount of cocaine was discovered in Red Bull imported from Austria and sold in Taiwan, prompting a recall of those products in several states. Subsequently, six German states banned Red Bull and considered banning it nationwide. After testing various versions of Red Bull it was determined that a person with a low tolerance for cocaine would have to drink an impossible two million cans in a single setting in order to become critically ill.

Health effects include commonly reported adverse reactions to caffeine, including insomnia, nervousness, headache, and tachycardia (a faster than normal heart rate).

Monster

Introduced by Hansen Natural Corporation of Corona, California in 2002 and marketed as Monster Energy, the energy drink is not widely advertised but relies instead on the recognition it gets from its sports event sponsorships. Coca-Cola took over distribution of Monster Energy in 2008 and expansion into other worldwide markets is planned or underway.

The amount of caffeine in Monster Energy is 10 mg per ounce, or 160 mg per 16-oz. can. Packaging does carry a warning to consumers to not consume more than three 16-oz. cans per day, and that it is not recommended for pregnant women, children under 10, and those who are sensitive to caffeine. Among the other ingredients are taurine, panax ginseng root extract, glucuronolactone, and guarana seed extract.

While Monster Energy is the original, there are other flavors, including Monster Low Carb, Assault, Khaos, M-80, MIXXD, Import, Heavy Metal and DUB Edition. A new brand, recently introduced, is Nitrous Monster, containing carbonated and nitrogenated water, available as Nitrous Monster Anti-Gravity, Super Dry and Killer-B. Other products include 3-oz. energy shots called Monster Hitman Energy Shooters, available as Monster Hitman, Hitman Lobo and Hitman Sniper. Not to neglect the coffee and tea market, there are also Java Monster Chai hai, Lo-Ball 15, Irish Blend, Russian 15, Nut Up 15, Originale, Loca Moca, Lean Mean, and Big Black. X-Presso Monster Hammer, a coffee brand containing nitrogenated water, is the most recent entry.
Rockstar – Created in 2001 and manufactured by Rockstar, Inc. in Las Vegas, Nevada, Rockstar energy drink is available in 14 different flavors in more than 20 countries, including the United States. Seeking to differentiate itself from competitor, and market leader, Red Bull, Rockstar comes in standard 16-oz. cans – twice the size of the 8-oz. Red Bull. In fact, Rockstar’s marketing campaigns includes the phrase, “twice the size of Red Bull for the same price.”

Rockstar

Rockstar Energy Drink flavors include Original, Sugar Free, Zero Carb, Juiced Guava, Juiced Pomegranate, Punched Tropical, Punched Citrus Acai Berry, Roasted Mocha, Roasted Latte, and Roasted Vanilla Light. Newest flavors include Rockstar Energy Cola, Rockstar Recovery lemonade flavor, and Rockstar Roasted Espresso (now only available in an 8-oz. can). Rockstar Energy Shots come in two flavors. Rockstar energy GUM was introduced in 2010. Available in two flavors, iced mint and iced mint orange, the pack of 10 pieces contains as much caffeine as an 8-oz. can of the Rockstar Energy Drink.

Rockstar Energy Shots contain 200 mg of caffeine in a 2.5-oz. can, compared to the 150 mg in Rockstar Energy Drink in the original 16-oz. can. Besides caffeine (and sugar), other Rockstar Energy Drink ingredients include the herbs panax ginseng, gingko biloba, milk thistle extract, and guarana seed. After health concerns about guarana, the amount in the product was reduced. Rockstar Energy Drink also contains 1000 mg of taurine. The product fluoresces when exposed to ultra-violet light.
Health effects and complications include anxiety, jitteriness, and high blood sugar levels. Mixing Rockstar Energy Drinks with alcohol can lead to heart failure as well as hide the level of alcohol intoxication. It also makes dehydration worse. Although alcohol was originally included as an ingredient in one version, and still is in products sold in Canada, it was discontinued in all U.S. products in 2007. This was perhaps in response to criticism that young people were confusing it with the non-alcoholic regular version.

Rockstar, true to its name, sponsors a variety of musical events. These include the Mayhem Festival, a metal and rock festival that tours the U.S. in July and August each year, the Alternative Press Tour (tours U.S. and Canada annually), and the hardcore tour called Winter Warped Tour (originally known as Taste of Chaos).
Energy Drinks Containing Alcohol

Several energy drinks contain alcohol. Basically, they’re alcoholic energy drinks.

Tilt – Anheuser-Busch markets Tilt as a premium malt beverage. An energy drink containing alcohol, its other active ingredients originally included guarana, ginseng and caffeine. Alcoholic content by volume varies by flavor, with 6.6 percent alcohol in the berry version and 8.0 percent in the lemon-lime flavor. That’s higher than most American beers (ranging from 3 to 6 percent), and higher than competitor Sparks (7 percent maximum). Tilt’s formula was recently changed to eliminate taurine and guarana. In December 2008, Anheuser-Busch agreed to stop selling caffeinated alcoholic drinks.

Sparks – Originally created by San Francisco-based beverage marketing firm McKenzie-River Corporation, Sparks was purchased by Miller Brewing Company and is manufactured under the label of Steel Brewing Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sparks is a malt beverage energy drink. It contains caffeine, taurine, ginseng and guarana – all typical of energy drinks, with the exception of the alcoholic content. Sparks is 12 proof, and there are several types. Sold in 16 oz. silver cans with bright orange tops, the design features a “+” near the top of the can and a “-“ near the bottom. This gives the can the appearance of a battery. (Get it? Battery equals energy.) Packaging states 6 percent alcoholic content by volume.

Some say the flavor is similar to other popular energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster Energy – sugary and tart. There’s also Sparks Light, a sugar-free version with a bright blue top, and higher alcoholic content Sparks Plus (7 percent alcohol, black top), and Sparks Red (8 percent alcohol, red top). The latter two are available in both 16 oz. and 24 oz. cans.
Sparks was introduced by word of mouth, since large quantities of the beverage were simply given away. It was very popular initially with the gay hipster crowd in San Francisco. Temporary discoloration of the teeth and mouth after consuming the drinks, known as “Sparks Mouth,” is due to the yellow food coloring used in the beverage. In December 2008, following the request of San Francisco and 13 states, distributor Miller Coors LLC agreed to take out the caffeine in Sparks drinks and to change its marketing campaign.

Alcohol and Energy Drink Combos

Drinking sites tout combinations of energy drinks and alcohol such as Red Bull and Tuaca, a 70 proof Italian liqueur. The combo is known as a “Tuaca Blaster.”

Other popular combos include the old standby, vodka, mixing Red Bull and vodka, as well as “Rockstar 21,” a combo of Rockstar and vodka, or the alternative, Rockstar plus pomegranate juice and vodka.

Basically, any type of generally flavorless alcohol mixed with energy drinks is latched onto by those seeking to get the rush and sustain energy. The variations are limitless, and someone is always coming up with the latest twist on the old favorites.

Just Say No to Combos

Bottom line, mixing energy drinks with other alcoholic beverages should send up a red flag reading, “Warning: do not consume.” Why mess with your body and mind and create more problems than you need?

It’s better to stick with non-alcoholic energy drinks – in moderation – if that is your thing. You can indulge in a single can of one of the more popular energy drinks to be like the rest of the crowd. Just don’t mix with beer, wine or spirits in an effort to keep up. Don’t become a statistic or part of a headline in the local news. Mixing energy drinks and alcohol is dangerous and may land you in more trouble than you bargained for.

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