Monday, November 10, 2014

The Caffeine-Alcohol Effect

Why quaffing energy-drink cocktails may be riskier than sticking to booze alone  


One in four people in their early 20s have done it—mixed the stimulating effects of an energy drink with the buzz-inducing properties of alcohol. While partiers swig and stay out late, health experts worry that alcoholic energy drinks cloud their judgment in two important ways: by making people think they are not as drunk as if they’d only had alcohol, and causing them to crave another round more strongly. These effects could explain why people who add caffeine to their cocktail are at greater risk of being in an accident or making a decision they will later regret (like getting in the car with a drunk driver) than those who stick to straight booze.

When the world’s first energy drink debuted in 1987, it didn’t take long for Red Bull to find its way behind the bar. Bartenders soon started mixing Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar with vodka, gin, Jagermeister, and hard cider. These caffeine-laced cocktails became so popular, major beverage companies created canned and bottled versions like Four Loko to sell in convenience stores.

"Since caffeine lasts for six hours, that extends that time when you feel alert, and that makes you want to drink more."
But as the popularity of alcoholic energy drinks rose, so too did the frequency of emergency-room visits by those who drank them. The rate of visits involving energy drinks in general doubled from 10,000 in 2007 to 20,000 in 2011, and about 2,600 of the visits in 2011 had to do with alcoholic energy drinks. That uncomfortable spike prompted the FDA to ban premixed alcoholic energy drinks including Four Loko—which contained 156 mg of caffeine and 12 percent alcohol, or the equivalent of four beers and a cup of coffee—in 2010.

Today, these drinks still flow freely in bars and restaurants—like at TGI Fridays, where the “Diddy Up” cocktail comes with Ciroc vodka, ruby red grapefruit, Red Bull and fresh-squeezed lime. It was added to the menu in 2010 and “continues to be a favorite for many of our Fridays guests” according to a company spokesperson. Dave and Busters boasts the “Raging Berry Bull” made with vanilla vodka, lemonade, and strawberry ice cubes, plus a can of blueberry-flavored Red Bull. The Black Diamond, a bar in Spokane, Washington, features a drink called “Hell Yeah” made with huckleberry vodka, citrus vodka, cranberry, and Red Bull. Jon Legault, the Black Diamond’s general manager, says he added it recently because “a lot of good drinks involve energy drinks nowadays.”

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