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Alcohol + Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Combo

Alcohol + Energy Drinks: A Dangerous Combo

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol comes with risks that many users may not be aware of; learn about these risks here.

If you’re planning on meeting up with friends and staying out later than usual for a night of drinking, you might pick up an energy drink from the gas station on your way. While the practice of mixing energy drinks and alcohol may seem harmless, and even common, the truth is that combining these two beverages can be quite risky. Below, learn about the dangers associated with consuming an energy drink with alcohol, and if you’re struggling to cut back on your drinking, you’ll find information about alcohol rehab and medication assisted treatment for alcohol use.

What are energy drinks?

Energy drinks are a form of soft drink that contains caffeine and other ingredients, which are intended to increase alertness and boost energy levels by stimulating the metabolism or the central nervous system. Different energy drinks can contain varying levels of caffeine, which can create risks. 

While not common, caffeine toxicity is possible with energy drink consumption. It occurs at lower doses of caffeine consumption for those who have heart conditions or seizure disorders. People who consume energy drinks in excessive quantities are at risk of caffeine toxicity. Common symptoms of caffeine toxicity include nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, gastrointestinal discomfort, tremors, elevated heart rate, and psychomotor agitation (pacing, etc.). In rare cases, caffeine toxicity can lead to death.

Many energy drinks also contain taurine, which is believed to reduce muscle fatigue and enhance the effects of caffeine. Taurine is banned in some countries because of its connection to death among athletes. Guarana, a botanical ingredient, is also commonly found in energy drinks. It contains significantly more caffeine than coffee beans, and is believed to increase energy levels. Common side effects associated with guarana include insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, tachycardia, tremors, anxiety, and chest pain.

While amounts of ingredients like guarana and taurine are typically low in energy drinks, the truth is that these beverages still contain high amounts of caffeine, which can be problematic. For instance, consumption of energy drinks is linked to significant increases in blood pressure. Many are also high in sugar, which increases the risk of diabetes and tooth decay. 

Most Common Energy Drink Brand Names

You’ll probably recognize some of the names on the list of the most popular energy drinks, which include:

  • Red Bull
  • Monster
  • Rockstar
  • Bang
  • NOS
  • Burn

Popularity of Energy Drinks in Teens and Young Adults 

One of the factors that makes it dangerous to mix energy drinks and alcohol is that energy drink consumption is more popular in younger populations. One recent study found that 1.4% of teens, 5.5% of young adults, and 1.2% of middle-aged adults are energy drink consumers. The popularity of these beverages has grown among all age groups in recent years, according to the study.

What is problematic about energy drink consumption in teens and young adults is that these age groups tend to be unaware of the potential negative side effects associated with these beverages. Furthermore, the practice of mixing energy drinks with alcohol is more common in teens and young adults. In fact, one study found that half of college students had mixed energy drinks and alcohol, or used energy drinks to compensate for lack of sleep. 

Is it safe to mix alcohol and energy drinks

The general consensus is that the combination of alcohol and energy drinks is not safe. In fact, one unique alcoholic beverage, called Four Loko, included caffeine and other ingredients common in energy drinks. This alcohol-containing energy drink was linked to numerous alcohol-related hospitalizations during the height of its popularity. 

As a result, Four Loko came to be known as a “blackout in a can,” and its manufacturers were named in several wrongful death lawsuits. Due to concerns surrounding Four Loko, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared in November 2010 that it was illegal to add caffeine to alcoholic beverages. The FDA specifically stated that caffeine-containing alcoholic beverages are potentially “hazardous and life-threatening.” 

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Dangers of Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks

So, what are the potential negative effects of Redbull and vodka, or other combinations of alcohol and energy drinks? Some of the main risks are discussed below.

Reduced Awareness of Intoxication 

The physiological effects of both energy drinks and alcohol make the combination of the two potentially risky. Alcohol acts as a depressant, slowing activity in the central nervous system, whereas the caffeine in energy drinks acts as a stimulant. The stimulating effects of caffeine can cancel out some of the depressant effects of alcohol, so people who make a habit of mixing alcohol and energy drinks may not realize how intoxicated they are.

More specifically, when people consume energy drinks and alcohol together, they will be less likely to perceive symptoms like muscle weakness, loss of coordination, and dry mouth that come along with being intoxicated. The problem with this is that a person who is intoxicated by alcohol remains quite impaired, even if the caffeine in an energy drink reduces their perception of this impairment.

For the reasons outlined above, reduced awareness of intoxication when consuming energy drinks with alcohol places a person at risk of unintentional accidents and injuries, like motor vehicle crashes or falls. In fact, one study found that people who consumed alcohol and energy drinks together were four times as likely to drive home while intoxicated when compared to those who did not consume energy drinks. 

Consuming Larger Amounts of Alcohol Than Intended 

Because energy drinks reduce feelings of intoxication while increasing energy levels, people tend to drink larger quantities of alcohol when under the influence of these beverages. Reduced perception of intoxication can lead a person to drink beyond what they would otherwise consume.

Furthermore, the energy-increasing effects of energy drinks can delay the onset of sleepiness, and cause a person to stay awake longer than they normally would, leading to additional alcohol consumption. Some studies have shown that the combination of energy drinks and alcohol is associated with the need for hospital admission to address high blood alcohol content. 

Greater Likelihood of Risky Behavior 

Finally, the combination of energy drinks and alcoholic beverages, such as Monster and alcohol, increases the likelihood that a person will engage in risky behavior. For instance, the combination of the two has been linked to risky sexual behavior, as well as the use of illicit drugs, including marijuana, cocaine, and ecstasy. 

How to Avoid the Risks

If you’re going to consume alcohol, it’s best to avoid energy drinks altogether. If you’ve had an energy drink during the day, it’s important to understand that caffeine may still be in your system, and influencing your body, when you consume alcohol in the evening. The typical half-life of caffeine is around 5 hours, meaning that half the caffeine you consumed is still in your body 5 hours later.

If you have a caffeinated energy drink at noon, chances are that the caffeine will still affect you if you have an alcoholic drink with dinner in the evening. To reduce the risks from energy drinks and alcohol, it’s best to cut off your caffeine consumption early in the day. Perhaps you can begin your day with an energy drink first thing in the morning, but having one as an afternoon pick-me-up when you plan to drink later in the day can be problematic.

Furthermore, as a general rule, you should never combine alcohol with energy drinks. If you start to feel sleepy, rather than buying an energy drink and another round of shots, you’re better off heading home and going to bed.

Finally, the best way to avoid negative side effects from alcohol and energy drinks is to drink in moderation. Whether you’ve had caffeine recently or not, staying within a safe limit of alcohol consumption reduces your risks of negative side effects. Experts define moderate drinking as up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 per day for men. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more drinks in one sitting for a woman and 5 or more for a man. 

Avoiding binge drinking, and keeping your alcohol consumption within a moderate range, reduces the negative effects that come from mixing caffeine and alcohol. You’ll also be at lower risk of other consequences from drinking, which can include injuries, motor vehicle crashes, violent behavior, and increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. 

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The answers to the following questions summarize the risks associated with combining energy drinks with alcohol:

How long after an energy drink can I drink alcohol?

There is no specific timeframe for when it is safe to drink alcohol after having an energy drink. In general, it is not safe to combine alcohol with energy drinks. You should wait until you are no longer drinking before you have an energy drink.

For example, if you will be drinking during the evening, you should not have any energy drinks during the afternoon or evening, and you should wait until the next morning before consuming another energy drink. If you have specific questions about the safety of energy drinks given your health history, consult with your doctor. 

Do energy drinks have alcohol?

Energy drinks do not contain alcohol. In fact, after serious risks arising from the consumption of Four Loko, an energy drinking containing alcohol, the FDA determined that it was illegal to include caffeine in alcoholic beverages. 

What happens when you mix energy drinks with alcohol?

The combination of alcohol and energy drinks can be dangerous, because the stimulating effect of the caffeine in energy drinks reduces the perception of being intoxicated. This means that people may consume larger amounts of alcohol than intended, without realizing how drunk they are. This can lead to other risky behavior, such as unprotected sex and driving under the influence. 

Recover From Alcohol Misuse with Confidant Health 

If you have experienced negative consequences from alcohol but have been unable to reduce your drinking, you may benefit from alcohol rehab services. At Confidant Health, we offer these services, including medication assisted treatment for alcohol use, in a virtual setting, so you can recover from the comfort and privacy of home.

Download our app today, available on both the App Store and the Google Play Store, to access our numerous resources.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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