Why Mixing Energy Drinks With Alcohol Makes You Drink More

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In colleges around the country, a popular make-shift cocktail is mixing alcohol with energy drinks. More specifically, mixing alcohol with Red Bull. The general “thinking” behind the matter is that drinking red bull with alcohol will keep you energized, but a new Australian study has found a unique correlation with the energy drink cocktail: It makes you want to drink more.

In the study — published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research — the researchers split their subjects into two groups: those who will only drink alcohol and those who will drink a special cocktail with alcohol and energy drink. Both the vodka soda and the vodka Red Bull drinks were served in equal amounts and did not have a noticeable taste of alcohol. After drinking, the participants filled out a questionnaire about their drinking experience.

Their findings? Those who drank just alcohol had less desire to drink more than those who had the alcohol-energy drink. The findings are especially concerning, according to the researchers, since the findings suggest that energy drinks make people want to drink more and it would be harder to cut off drinking.

“This is an important finding because it provides evidence of a mechanism through which energy drinks may increase binge drinking, and consequently, alcohol-related harm among young people,” said study author Rebecca McKetin, who leads the substance use research group at The Australian National University in Canberra, to LiveScience.

“Combining energy drinks with alcohol increased the urge to drink alcohol relative to drinking alcohol alone,” conclude the authors of the study. “More research is needed to understand what factors mediate this effect and whether it increases subsequent alcohol consumption.”

Health experts warn students of the risks of energy drink mixers. According to Brown University, one of the unforeseen effects of the energy drink mixers is dehydration, since both alcohol and energy drinks leave you dehydrated and ergo, with a worse hangover.

“Since energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant, the combination of effects may be dangerous,” warns the university on their website. “The stimulant effects can mask how intoxicated you are and prevent you from realizing how much alcohol you have consumed. Fatigue is one of the ways the body normally tells someone that they’ve had enough to drink.”

What’s more, the stimulants in caffeine will lead an individual to falsely believe their abilities are not impaired, and, in turn, they may be more prone to drinking and driving. “We normally think of alcohol as a depressant, but it also has a stimulant effect, and it is this stimulant effect that is most strongly related to how much we like alcohol, and whether we want to keep drinking,” McKetin explains to Reuters Health. “Energy drinks contain caffeine. Caffeine, being a stimulant, tends to bring out the stimulant effects of alcohol intoxication. It may be this that causes energy drinks to increase the desire to keep drinking alcohol.”

Critics of the study will inevitable point out that the subject pool was small, and as such, the findings are preliminary at best. But with the energy drink industry booming by the year — it is currently worth $27.5 billion — how the beverages interact with other drinks is an important point to consider. Especially since estimates suggest that three out of four college students in Europe and the U.S. drink energy mixers with alcohol and energy drinks.

“We need to demonstrate that combining energy drinks with alcohol leads to a significant increase in people’s drinking and alcohol-related problems,” added McKetin to Reuters Health. “We will then be in a stronger position to regulate the availability of these beverages and deliver public health messages about their potential harm.”

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