When combined with alcohol, a common practice these days, energy drinks are bad for you – and can even raise your risk of serious accidents. Here’s why.
If you indulge in several beers at a party or knock back one too many glasses of wine while having dinner at a restaurant, you may think you can clear your head from the effects of the booze with caffeine. But reaching for a so-called energy drink loaded with caffeine isn’t the solution; neither is mixing it with your alcohol.
In fact, if you’ve ever wondered are energy drinks bad for you, there’s increasing evidence they are — especially when combined with alcohol.
Energy drinks don’t counteract the effects of alcohol on your reflexes and judgment. In fact, drinking booze along with energy drinks increases your risk of having an accident, according to a study from the University of Victoria's Center for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) in Canada.
A research team analyzed over three decades of reports in peer-reviewed journals documenting the impact of alcohol combined with energy drinks. The results of the analysis showed mixing energy drinks with alcohol is more dangerous than drinking alcohol alone.
If you have one or two drinks of alcohol, your risk of injury is about twice as likely as if you were totally sober, and if you down six drinks the risk of an accident goes up six times. But according to the researchers’ findings, it appears mixing energy drinks with booze creates what the researchers call a “surge response” —increasing the risk of injury about 20 times.
After drinking alcohol and energy drinks, you are far more likely to sustain injuries from falls, motorcycle and automobile accidents, and also to be involved in assaults, fights, or other physical violence, according to the study findings.
How are energy drinks bad for you specifically when combined with alcohol?
"The stimulant effects of caffeine mask the result that most people get when they drink," explained CARBC researcher Audra Roemer. "Usually when you're drinking alcohol, you get tired and you go home. Energy drinks mask that, so people may underestimate how intoxicated they are, end up staying out later, consume more alcohol, and engage in risky behavior and more hazardous drinking practices."
Three of the studies Roemer and her colleagues analyzed found people with risk-taking or sensation-seeking tendencies who combine alcohol with energy drinks may be most likely to end up suffering the effects of accidents and violence.
"We know that these are risk factors for alcohol-related injuries, and some research has suggested that people who have these traits might prefer the awake-drunk state that you get from mixing alcohol and energy drinks," Roemer explained. "This could be a population that's at even higher risk for injuries."
Downing alcohol and energy drinks within a short time period is increasing in popularity across North America. Premixed alcohol and high caffeine drinks are frequently sold in liquor stores. Combining the two types of drinks, such as mixing vodka with Red Bull, is also common and a cause for concern, the researchers noted.
"We're currently running a controlled emergency department study to look at the relationship a little more closely,” said Roemer. “Hopefully, that will bring more answers. The research we've done so far points to an increased risk of injuries with the use of alcohol mixed with energy drinks that could be a serious public health concern.”
Are energy drinks bad for you in other ways? Yes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC reports additional worrisome effects of drinking caffeine and alcohol. For example, studies have found people who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink compared to drinkers who stick to only alcohol.
Even when not combined with alcohol, other dangers of energy drinks include anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations, and dehydration. If you are concerned that energy drinks are bad for you, the CDC’s Buzz on Energy Drinks page explains how ingredients in these beverages (which include not only caffeine but other stimulants) can have a harmful impact on the nervous system.
July 27, 2017
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA