Why Alcohol And Energy Drinks Are A Dangerous Combination

Why Alcohol And Energy Drinks Are A Dangerous Combination

Heavy drinkers are mixing alcohol with energy drinks to enable them to drink longer and get more drunk. While the trend is concerning many public health researchers — because the risks remain unknown — others are attempting to allay these fears, claiming there’s nothing to worry about.

Picture: Getty Images

Late on Friday and Saturday nights (or, more accurately, early on Saturday and Sunday mornings), around 40 per cent of people on Australian city streets are heavily intoxicated, with breath alcohol concentrations (BAC) greater than 0.087. Nearly a quarter of these drinkers have consumed more than two energy drinks.

We don’t have reliable data on use in other countries but use abroad is high. Around three-quarters of college students in the United States and 85 per cent of Italian students report consuming alcohol energy drinks in the past month.

Our research, and that of others around the world, has shown that drinkers who consume energy drinks record higher breath alcohol concentrations than those who don’t. They’re also more likely to report engaging in aggressive acts; being injured; having driven while drunk or been the passenger of a drunk driver; and having taken sexual advantage of, or been taken advantage of by, another person.

But these studies don’t tell whether the energy drinks are the culprit, whether people who are more likely to engage in these behaviours are more likely to use energy drinks, or perhaps most likely, some combination of the two.

Normally, experimental research is able to give us some answers. But ethics committees are extremely reluctant to allow researchers to reproduce in the laboratory the levels of alcohol intoxication and energy drink use we see on our streets.

Therefore, much of the laboratory research has, for ethical reasons, been confined to studying the effects of combining lower-levels of alcohol intoxication (BAC under 0.08) with a single energy drink. These doses equate to a coffee and a few beers, far below the levels of consumption that raise public health concerns.

Some of the researchers doing these studies have argued that we shouldn’t be concerned about the risks of combining alcohol and energy drinks. Many of those who draw this reassuring conclusion have been funded by one of the major energy drink producers, Red Bull.

The industry-friendly conclusions from the laboratory studies are undeniably correct about alcohol energy drinks when consumption is limited to a single energy drink and alcohol use has been limited that defined as still safe to drive. But for researchers interested in night-time violence, studies which look at people under 0.08 are largely irrelevant.

So it’s concerning when these researchers claim we don’t need to do any more research on this topic when they simply haven’t investigated the levels of alcohol and energy drink consumption at which trouble is likely to occur.

It’s especially worrisome that four out of five talks at special conference sessions on this topic have been made by industry-funded researchers. The same speakers have been funded to attend conferences around the world by a company with financial interest in the research outcomes. The frequent failure to disclose this fact raises questions about the use of research findings as image management.

There are two core issues of public health concern which need be investigated. First, is there an interaction between alcohol and energy drink consumption at higher levels of intoxication, as seen on our streets — for example, when people have had 10 drinks or have a BAC greater than .10?

And second, is there an interaction between a given level of alcohol use and the effects of higher levels of energy drink use — for example, between two and three standard cans?

Until we know the answers to these questions we shouldn’t be misleadingly reassured by laboratory studies which purport to show that energy drinks have no effects on intoxication.

Peter Miller is Principal Research Fellow at Deakin University. Wayne Hall is Professor & Deputy Director (Policy) UQ Centre for Clinical Research at University of Queensland. Peter Miller receives funding from Australian Research Council, grants from NSW Government, grants from National Drug Law Enforcement Research Fund, grants from Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, grants from Cancer Council Victoria, grants from QLD government, grants from Australian Drug Foundation, other from Australasian Drug Strategy Conference, other from International Drug Policy Coalition, outside the submitted work. He is affiliated with the academic journal, Addiction. Wayne Hall receives funding from a National Health and Medical Research Council Australia Fellowship..

The ConversationThis article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • I think part of the problem is that energy drink mixers taste fkn awful, so people down them quickly and drink more than they would if they drank something which tasted a little better. Usually that friend who “writes themselves off” is the guy/girl downing vodka red bull like no tomorrow, not the heavy drinker or the drug taker.

    • It could also be that the “heavy drinkers and drug takers” you know have just been doing it long enough that they know their limits.

  • i agree i find that most of the kiddies that go with energy drinks don’t last the whole night they normally crash and burn due to the sugar. While most of the people that stick to the same drink and occasionally swap to water last longer. But thats just from 1 being a Bouncer and two being the second of the two myself.

  • My normal poison is beer, but why cant people get drunk on whatever the hell they want without the do-gooders running in right after them?
    If it’s the violence then you’re looking at a completely different problem of current society in that most people now believe that they are always right (and have to prove it – by violence if necessary) and don’t behave like ‘respectful strangers’ – especially while drunk.
    If it’s the binge drinking – that’s been going on for as long as society, it’s now a fine human tradition and you are not going to stop it.
    Just like the hooning debate – these are the same people who ripped skids in HQ Holden’s, and drank VB, Swan and Tooheys Draught flat out, now telling us that ‘we were the young ones, none younger than us, we had all the fun now you cant have yours’.

  • As a heavy drinker, I was on the RedBull and Vodka for a while out in the clubs. One night I wondered why, on the dance floor, I was having heart palpitations. It was only after I got off the dance floor, sat down and counted how many of these that I had had, that I realised I had down 10-12 drinks!
    From then on, it was back to my normal double JD and Coke.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!