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Some Drinkers Likely to Ignore Caffeinated Alcohol’s Risks

Scientists warn that young adults are likely to keep mixing caffeine and alcohol even though a number of caffeinated alcoholic beverages have been withdrawn from the marketplace under federal pressure.

Nov. 30, 2010 -- Scientists warn that young adults are likely to keep mixing caffeine and alcohol even though a number of caffeinated alcoholic beverages have been withdrawn from the marketplace under federal pressure.

The researchers also say a lot of study still needs to be done on the risks of mixing caffeine and alcohol. According to the CDC, when alcoholic beverages are mixed with energy drinks, the caffeine from the energy drinks can mask the depressant effects of alcohol. Drinkers who mix alcohol with energy drinks are three times more likely to binge drink.

The article is published online today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, just days after the FDA warned four manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages on Nov. 17 that their products were unsafe and caused risky behaviors.

FDA Says Progress Made in Removing Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

The FDA has said in a more recent statement that “significant progress” has been made since the warnings were issued and that many alcoholic drinks laced with caffeine have been withdrawn. According to the FDA:

  • Phusion Projects has stopped producing caffeinated alcoholic beverages, is no longer shipping such products, and expects to have all such drinks off retail shelves by Dec. 13.
  • United Brands also has ceased shipping its caffeinated alcoholic beverage Joose, and plans to have its caffeinated alcoholic beverages off retail shelves by Dec. 13.
  • Charge Beverages has stopped making its caffeinated alcoholic beverages and has not shipped any of its products since early November.
  • New Century Brewing has stopped making its caffeinated alcoholic beverage Moonshot.

 

The Future of Caffeine and Alcohol

Jonathan Howland, PhD, of the department of community health sciences at Boston University and author of the new report, tells WebMD that young people were mixing caffeine and alcohol before companies began making combo drinks and many will continue to do so, regardless of recent federal actions.

“The paper is saying a couple of things,” Howland tells WebMD. “One is, as long as alcoholic beverages and energy drinks are sold, people will put them together.”

 Also, “we are saying that there are a lot of hypotheses about the effects of mixing caffeine and alcohol, and we need to do more research to find out what these effects are, and who the people are who are more apt to mix the two substances.”

Energy Drinks an Early Culprit

“We don’t really know whether the caffeinated alcohol beverages are making you engage in risky behaviors or because risk-taking people go after these beverages, and we need to find out,” Howland tells WebMD. “These and other questions need to be rigorously studied.”

He says recent warnings by FDA and removal of products may “make some people think” before mixing caffeine and alcohol, but “I kind of doubt it and think the mixing is going to continue.”

Howland says “the problem began with the so-called energy drinks that contain various stimulants, primarily caffeine.”

According to the new report:

  • A 2008 survey found that of 577 caffeinated beverages listed on a web site known as Energy Fiend, at least 130 contained more than 0.02% caffeine limit for soft drinks imposed by the FDA.
  • A 2006 survey found that 24% of college students reported mixing energy drinks with alcohol in the month before being questioned.
  • Bar patrons who drank caffeinated alcohol beverages had a threefold risk of leaving the bar highly intoxicated, compared to those who drank alcohol without caffeine.
  • Bar patrons had a fourfold risk of intending to drive after leaving the bar, had double the risk of experiencing or committing sexual assault, riding with an intoxicated driver, having an alcohol-related accident, or requiring medical treatment.

Howland tells WebMD that little is known about why some young adults are more likely to prefer caffeine with alcohol, though clever marketing by manufacturers of energy drinks and of caffeinated alcoholic beverages may influence otherwise safety-conscious people.

“Marketing includes unsubstantiated claims that energy drinks will increase attention, endurance, performance, weight loss, and fun, and will reduce performance decrements due to fatigue or alcohol,” the researchers write.

Howland says research is needed to examine:

  • The effects of caffeinated alcoholic beverages vs. caffeinated or alcoholic beverages alone.
  • The extent to which caffeinated alcoholic beverages lead to risky behaviors.
  • Whether personality traits, such as impulsivity and novelty seeking, may explain why some young adults mix caffeine and alcohol and others do not.

The researchers conclude that “evidence-based information” is needed for effective policymaking and public education.

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