Energy drinks, alcohol don’t mix, study finds

STATE COLLEGE – Vodka Red Bulls and Jager Bombs, enjoying a recent spurt in popularity, can cause strokes, alcohol poisoning and other health problems, experts at Penn State and the University of Michigan found.

Manufacturing highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages is banned in the United States because the popular Four Loko caused dozens of alcohol-related illnesses, but that doesn’t stop teens and young adults from mixing or ordering dangerous cocktails.

And it’s not just these fizzy concoctions stirring up trouble. Lead author Megan Patrick, a researcher with Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, said simply drinking an energy drink the same day as alcohol is a recipe for health risks.

“The message here is that consuming alcohol and energy drinks on the same day is associated with more serious alcohol consequences,” she said. “These drinks don’t have to be combined in the same glass in order to have overlapping effects on a person’s body.”

The study, conducted by Patrick and Jennifer Maggs of Penn State, was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. According to the research, health implications include blacking out and suffering from alcohol poisoning. The practice can expose communities to individuals who are “wide awake drunk.”

“People who consume energy drinks and alcohol are combining the stimulant effects of caffeine and the depressant effects of alcohol,” Patrick said. “This combination can make people feel less drunk, when they are actually just as impaired. This can have serious potential health impacts – for example, if people don’t realize how intoxicated they actually are and decide to drive home.”

During four semesters, Patrick and Maggs studied 652 students through four, separate two-week periods. During that time, students logged their alcohol and energy drink consumption habits and indicated negative consequences, ranging from hangovers to getting into legal trouble.

The researchers found that 80 percent of college students drank alcohol on at least one of the 56 days, and 30 percent consumed alcohol and energy drinks in the same day. On days students drank more energy drinks, they consumed more alcohol, spent more time drinking and had higher estimated blood-alcohol levels.

Penn State police Chief Tyrone Parham said the energy drink craze has slowed since the Food and Drug Administration banned Four Loko and similar beverages in 2010. He said hospitalizations related to combining alcohol with energy drinks aren’t as prevalent as those from students simply consuming too much hard liquor.

“We’re still seeing students that have just had too much to drink,” Parham said. “But (mixing alcohol with energy drinks) is absolutely a recipe for disaster. It’s not a good idea.”

Maggs didn’t respond to requests for comment. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism paid for the project.

Anna Orso is a freelance reporter based in State College.