The Dangers of Energy Drinks and Alcohol

The Dangers of Energy Drinks and Alcohol

Why you may want to skip energy drinks and alcohol mixes like Red Bull and Vodka this weekend.

You’ve had a long week, so come Friday (or Tuesday, whatever, some weeks are especially difficult) it’s time to get out and head to the dive bar, club, lounge, or maybe even kick it old-school at a house party. While mixing your alcohol with an energy drink might seem like the perfect replacement for some sleep to snap out of your work/school funk, there are several reasons why doing so is more than just unhealthy; it’s potentially deadly.

Check out the caffeine content of energy drinks, coffee and sodas:

So what’s wrong with energy drinks if the caffeine content is similar to that of a cup of coffee?

Aw, sugar, sugar… Energy drinks (and regular sodas) are calorie and sugar bombs. But before you start reaching for the sugar-free Red Bull, when you drink caffeine at night, know that either way your body and mind won’t go into a proper sleep cycle. Why does that matter? Umm, because sleep is when you produce human growth hormone… majorly essential for muscle growth!

But even more important than getting jacked/toned, energy drinks are full of substances beyond the standard caffeine found in sodas and coffee. They also include mixes of stimulants, herbs and additives like guarana, ginseng, taurine and glucuronolactone, etc. Basically when you drink a Red Bull, it doesn’t give you wings, it gives you mega doses of caffeine and lots of other potentially brain-altering chemicals (research is still being done on the effects of Red Bull’s other main ingredients, taurine and glucuronolactone).

That said, energy drinks are stimulants and will most definitely make you more alert. But what you may not remember from health class is that alcohol is a depressant, and slows down brain activity. This is why a cocktail or two might relax you, and it’s also why >3-4 will totally screw up your coordination on and off the dance floor. And no, fist pumping does not take coordination.

What happens when you mix stimulants with depressants? Mixed messages. Your heart and brain are trying to speed up and slow down at the same time. Both alcohol and caffeine are diuretics, so by combining them, your body gets even more dehydrated. In the best case scenario, you’ll wake up in the morning really thirsty. In the worst case scenario, the confusion from uppers and downers and the other chemicals in energy drinks combined with a lack of hydration can lead to a heart attack and death. Red Bull was actually made illegal in France, Denmark and Norway after consumption of the energy drink was associated with several fatalities. Not such a funny morning-after story.

Besides totally confusing your body, researchers have found that mixing energy drinks with alcohol decreases your perception of intoxication. In English, you’ll think you’re less drunk and less tired then you actually are. And because of that, studies have also found that combining alcohol and energy drinks increases impaired decision making So, in addition to sending Texts From Last Night-worthy messages to your ex, you’re also more likely to a) have beer goggles and make mistakes b) drive or get in the car with a drunk driver and c) absolutely end up with hangover. Yeah, not cool.

The bottom line is this. An adult beverage and photohunt make a great mix, but alcohol and energy drinks do not. While “everything in moderation” is generally the rule of thumb to live by, in this case, go with the “as little as possible” route. Think of mixing alcohol with energy drinks as Not 1R Approved. Personally, I’m thrilled with this information because now I have ammo for declining the worst drink in the universe: jaeger bombs.

References:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00085.x/full
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article2806253.ece
http://news.ufl.edu/2010/02/10/energy-drink/
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/40481.php
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSSYD5846120080815
http://www.michigandaily.com/content/alcohol-red-bull-mix-may-lead-death

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About the Author

Carolyn is a Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian and has her masters in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. She went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergrad, spent 3 months traveling around the world on Semester at Sea and then swung through Boulder, CO before landing in her current home of NYC. Carolyn has a blog called One Smart Brownie (www.onesmartbrownie.com) to simplify healthy eating for those who don’t spend their lives studying nutrition. Her favorite hobbies include getting new stamps on her passport and telling yo mama jokes, and she says that if she were to have a crush on a food it would be chocolate biscotti, no questions asked.