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Study Highlights Risks of Combining Alcohol and Energy Drinks

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As more states move to ban caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs), a new research review highlights the mounting evidence on the health risks associated with combining alcohol and energy drinks, ScienceDaily reported Nov. 30.

In an effort to determine the extent of CAB use and its health consequences — and outline future research needs — a team of researchers led by Jonathan Howland, PhD, chair of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at the Boston University School of Public Health, examined statistical evidence from 44 sources.

In one study, compared with patrons who drank regular alcoholic drinks, people who drank CABs were three times more likely to leave a nightclub “highly intoxicated” and four times more likely to leave with the intention of driving.

In another, college CAB drinkers were twice as likely to be the victim or perpetrator of a sexual assault, to ride with a drunk driver, to have an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident, and to need medical attention.

According to Howland and colleagues, CABs have gained popularity by being touted as a means to increase “party time” by counteracting alcohol’s sedating effects — despite evidence that the opposite is true.

“Advertising messages depict energy drinks as a means to enhance energy and alertness and to prolong partying and nightclubbing,” the researchers said.

Nonetheless, the promotional message is getting through: another study included in the review found 54 percent of all energy drinks consumed were mixed with alcohol for use while partying.

Although a number of states have banned sales of caffeinated alcoholic beverages, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps in that direction, the authors found no evidence that their consumption is slowing. One possible reason, they said, is that both caffeine and alcohol use correlate to personality traits common to young people.

“Heavy drinkers score higher on measures of sensation and novelty seeking. Caffeine use also correlates with impulsivity and sensation seeking in students,” they stated in the article’s conclusion.

“It is possible that CAB use and risk-taking may relate to one another because a third variable causes both (e.g., personality traits such as sensation and novelty seeking and impulsivity).”

The study was published online Nov. 30 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine (PDF).

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