A recent study found college students who drank energy drinks, such as Red Bull, on a weekly or daily basis had an increased risk of alcohol dependence, HealthDay reported Nov. 16.
Researchers led by Amelia Arria, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, assessed alcohol and energy-drink consumption in more than 1,000 students at a large public university. About 10 percent of the students reported frequent energy-drink consumption (more than 52 days in the past year).
Those same students drank more alcohol and with greater frequency — a difference large enough to put them at a significantly higher risk for alcohol dependence — than students with low or no energy-drink consumption.
According to Arria, the results did not say that frequent energy-drink consumption causes alcohol dependence; they only pointed to an association.
“There are a lot of mechanisms between the use of energy drinks and the possibility of alcohol dependence, and we’re not completely clear on those mechanisms yet,” she said.
One drawback of the study is that it did not ask students whether they consumed energy drinks alone or mixed them with alcohol, Medscape reported Nov. 17.
“There’s a trend now for kids to use energy drinks as the mixer,” said Itai Danovitch, M.D., a psychiatrist specializing in addiction at Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “They have vodkas and Red Bulls.”
“If that’s the context in which kids who drink a lot are also consuming a lot of energy drinks, then there’s a bit of a confound,” he said.
However, he continued, “if caffeine exposure allows people to continue to be drunk while having lost their subjective perception of being intoxicated and increase their bad judgment and risky behavior, then they need to be aware of that.”
The article was published online Nov. 12 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.