Alcoholic Energy Drinks

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Posted: Friday, November 12th, 2010

Article on Four Loko

I want to bring your attention to an issue that recently was featured in the article “Concern over alcoholic energy drinks after incident at Washington College” in the Monterey Herald. Nine students who drank a caffeinated malt liquor called Four Loko were hospitalized with blood alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent, and a female student nearly died. A 23.5-ounce can sells for about $2.50 and has an alcohol content of 12 percent, comparable to four beers.

Energy Drink Facts:
Energy drinks are beverages that typically contain caffeine, other plant-based stimulants, simple sugars, and other additives. 90 percent of young adult drinkers under age 25 consume energy drinks.
They are very popular among youth and are regularly consumed by 31% of 12- to 17-year-olds and 34% of 18- to 24-year olds. Drinkers of alcohol mixed with energy drinks report that they feel more alert, more coordinated, and generally more sober then other drinkers do. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

Reasons for Drinking Energy Drinks:
Results of a study on college students showed that insufficient sleep was the most common reason to drink energy drinks, as indicated by 67% of energy drink users. The majority of users consumed energy drinks to increase their energy 65% and to drink to drink with alcohol while partying 54%.

51% of participants reported drinking greater than one energy drink each month in an average month for the current semester. Weekly jolt and crash episodes were experienced by 29% of users, 22% reported ever having headaches and 19% heart palpitations from consuming energy drinks.

Effects of Energy Drinks w/ Alcohol:
One clinical study found that, compared to consumption of alcoholic beverages alone, consumption of an energy drink mixed with alcohol did not reduce objective impairment of motor coordination and visual reaction time, but did significantly reduce subjective symptoms of alcohol intoxication such as headache, weakness, dry mouth, and impaired motor coordination.

Clinical studies have found that the consumption of caffeine, a central system stimulant and major ingredient in energy drinks, and alcohol, a depressant, reduces subjective perceptions of alcohol-induced impairment. Thus, when mixing energy drinks and alcohol, users may become desensitized to the symptoms of alcohol intoxication, which may increase the potential for alcohol-related harm such as alcohol poisoning, physical injury, impaired driving, and sexual victimization.

A study was conducted to assess event-level associations between energy drink consumption and alcohol-related risk behaviors in a natural drinking environment. The results indicated that consuming energy drinks mixed with alcohol was associated with a 3-fold increase in the odds of leaving a bar intoxicated. Consuming energy drinks mixed with alcohol was also associated with a 4-fold increase in the odds of intending to drive from the bar district.

Furthermore, analysis indicated that patrons who consumed alcohol mixed with energy drinks, on average, exited a bar later in the evening, engaged in drinking for a longer period of time, consumed more total drinks and more grams of ethanol, and held higher levels of alcohol intoxication, compared to patrons who did not consume energy drinks that night or who consumed energy drinks and alcohol at different times in the same night (not mixed together).

Prevention Strategies:
France, Turkey, Denmark, Norway, Uruguay, and Iceland banned high-caffeine/taurine energy drinks altogether. Sweden banned mixed energy drinks with alcohol.

Educational strategies, College campus ban, state ban, increase alcohol tax, ABC restrictions, restricting alcohol advertising, classification as liquor to help regulate which licensees sell it.

In 2008, thirteen State Attorneys General and the San Francisco, CA, City Attorney initiated an investigation of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages, which result in negotiated settlements with two companies who agreed to remove all stimulants from their products.

DUI Facts:
The United States has an epidemic of impaired driving with at least 50% of impaired drivers and drivers involved in alcohol-related crashes coming directly from a bar or restaurant where they were over-served alcoholic beverages.
Written by: Hanna Quinnell

Monterey Herald 10/26/10 “Concern over alcoholic energy drinks after incident at Washington college”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fact Sheets-Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages – Alcohol, Alcohol and Energy Drinks: An Unrecognized Danger (2010)

Thobs, D.L., et al., Event-level analysis of energy drink consumption and alcohol intoxication in bar patrons, Addictive Behaviors (2009), doi:10.1016/j.addbeh.2009.11.0004

Malinauskas, B.M., et al., A survey of energy drink consumption patterns among college students, Nutrition Journal (2007), 6:35 doi:10.1186/1475-2891-6-35