We are always noticing that the men and women who are in the process of recovery seem to enjoy energy drinks like “Red Bull,” “Monster,” and “Rock Star.”

We address the consumption of these beverages repeatedly in our various addiction treatment programs, particularly during Kevin McCauley’s lectures regarding the disease model of addiction. The substitution of energy drinks and other substances like tobacco (and even activities like gambling, sex, and shopping) is very common when the user is in early recovery from chemical dependency. The abuse of these types of substances allows the user to more easily cope with craving by getting a spike of dopamine pleasure in their brain that the substance they used to abuse once provided.

A Disturbing Trend – Alcohol Energy Drinks

Public health and safety officials have become alarmed by the newest entry into the world of alcoholic beverages. Alcoholic energy drinks are prepackaged beverages that contain not only alcohol but also caffeine and other stimulants like taurine, ginseng and guarana.

Energy Drinks

What should make you really uncomfortable about the newest development in the world of Big Alcohol targeting youthful imbibers is the design of the packaging which blends right into the world of non-alcoholic energy drinks.

Health Concerns:

Although there is debate regarding the overall risks and benefits of energy drink and moderate caffeine consumption, health researchers agree that caffeine consumption can have adverse health consequences, particularly at high doses. Among the most common negative effects are increased anxiety, panic attacks, increased blood pressure, increased gastric acid, bowel irritability, and insomnia.

Energy Drinks Health

The more studies that are completed regarding the health risks of combining alcohol and caffeine predictably show that there is a positive correlation between combining these products and danger.

Energy Drinks and Alcohol

According to a new government study, more than 13,000 U.S. emergency room visits in 2019 were due to issues related to highly caffeinated drinks like Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster.  This represents 10 times the number of similar cases that were treated in 2015.  The study, which was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), also found that in nearly half the ER cases, energy drinks were mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

Energy Drinks and Alcohol

The popularity of energy drinks has skyrocketed in the past decade, with sales of energy drinks increasing by 240% between 2014 and 2019.  The health issues that are associated with these flavored drinks is due to the high levels of caffeine the drinks contains, with some containing up to 500 mg of caffeine in an 12-ounce.  This compares to about 100 mg of caffeine in the average 5-ounce cup of coffee.  High doses of caffeine can cause high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and dehydration.  Many people experience high levels of anxiety due to the elevated heart rate that comes with high levels of caffeine consumption.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are marketed to the young.  The SAMHSA found that as many as 50% of children, teens and young adults consume them on a regular basis.  Between 2015 and 2019, 52% of ER visits that were related to energy drinks involved people aged 18 to 25. The study also found that men are more than twice as likely to mix energy drinks with alcohol and illicit drugs while women are more likely to combine the drinks with prescription medication.

Energy drinks that were sold premixed with alcohol received widespread focus over the past year following a rash of hospitalizations for extreme intoxication. Consumers of a drink called Four Loko, which combined up to 12% alcohol by volume with caffeine, reported a reduction of sensations typically associated with alcohol.  A rash of cases where young people drank Four Loko to the point of extreme intoxication led to a ban in several states. 

The SAMHSA study points out that there are still serious risks associated with energy drinks even when they’re not sold in alcoholic form and that consumers of energy drinks are mixing the drink with other substances on their own.  The authors of the study warn that combining energy drink consumption with substance abuse can lead to life-threatening conditions.  There is also a greater likelihood of injury due to risky behavior such as driving under the influence.

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8 comments

  1. b

    bret

    Reply

    I work as an addictions counselor. We have been working on educating our community on this very subject. What are the alcohol companies thinking, putting a stimulant in a in a CNS deperesent? All this will do is mask the alcohol effect so you feel like you can drink more. Please take them off the market. I am so sorry about this young lady. I hope the distelliers are happy about their profits for this quarter.

  2. K

    Kimberly

    Reply

    I am a prevention educator and director of our community’s drug-free coalition and we too have been educating our community on this issue. I echo Bret’s comments that the alcohol industry is once again explemifying unresponsible marketing ethics in producing alcohol energy drinks. I would even go so far as state, the alcohol industry should be held accountable for any teen deaths by alcohol energy drinks. Our community experienced a homicide that the perp admitted to “only” drinking Sparks (alcohol energy drink). BIG ALCOHOL must be stopped!

  3. L

    Lew

    Reply

    Better get the bars to stop serving Irish coffee, then. Alcohol and stimulants have been combined for centuries. Shouldn’t you at least wait for the tox report before calling for public action?

  4. J

    John French

    Reply

    Alcohol in massive excess kills people, whether it is mixed with energy drinks or water. Often it kills people because they vomit and inhale the vomitus. That too, happens no matter what else is ingested. The message should be — do not drink to excess. Articles like this, sadly, create focus on the other substances ingested. Granted, the energy drink might have a small effect in keeping the victim awake longer to drink more alcohol, but it is alcohol that kills.

  5. B

    Bob Pezzolesi

    Reply

    Equating beverages such as Sparks and Tilt with Irish coffee is disingenuous, at best. Irish coffee is not sold in convenience store coolers and marketed as helping young people to “party all night” or “go longer.” Researchers at Wake Forest found that the mixing of alcohol and energy drinks led to increased prevalence of a number of alcohol-related harms.

  6. P

    Patty

    Reply

    I too, am in the D/A field, and feel that our younger generation needs to be educated, instead of everyone attacking manufacturers, and distillers.- I have also been made aware that consumption of Redbull & Jagermeister & Vodka is very popular as well….

  7. j

    justin

    Reply

    I understand all of the concerns and complaints with the manufacturing companies of all the alcoholic energy drinks, but there is also something to be said about the education of the minors drinking. Making the manufactures scapegoats will not help underage drinkers learn anything other than thats it’s “not their fault” If kids were able to experience alcohol in a supervised environment, they would better understand the effects, and therefore have a better chance at avoiding alcohol related injuries

  8. K

    Karol

    Reply

    the statement “she wasn’t the kind to drink” is just one more example of the public’s general denial of alcohol problems and teens. Everyone who goes to a party where there is alcohol being consumed is at risk for being “the kind that drinks”. Teens continually put themselves in that risky situation and suffering the consequences for it. Parents and other adult leaders must step up efforts to get the message of the dangers of alcohol to teens and pre-teens! Adults have to take a stand against the alcohol companies the same way that consumers have taken a stand against tobacco companies!

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