Panic attacks, a racing heart beat, shaking, vomiting, paranoia and hyperirritability are not what is supposed to happen on a Saturday night at a college party. These adverse effects, along with the overconsumption of alcohol, can be avoided by not mixing energy drinks with alcohol.
Drinks like Four Locko, Joose and Sparks are all alcohol-infused energy drinks, popular among college students and have recently been targeted as the cause of numerous deaths.
In late 2010, nine Central Washington University students were hospitalized after consuming Four Lockos, according to a Huffington Post article. On Oct. 27, 2012, Washington State University student Kenny Hummel died from acute alcohol poisoning combining “5-hour Energy” beverages with alcohol; his blood-alcohol level exceeded 0.4 percent, according to a Seattle Times article.
“One of the biggest risks of energy drinks and alcohol is that it gives the body the illusion of a lot more energy and focus, and it masks the effects that the alcohol is having,” said Elva Giddings, director of the Western Washington University Prevention and Wellness Services. “[It’s] very difficult for someone to be aware of how intoxicated they’re getting, so it’s real easy to over drink.”
Alcoholic energy drinks, containing caffeine as a stimulant, create dangerous activity inside the drinker’s body. The combination of a stimulant – caffeine – combined with a sedative – alcohol – contributes to the primary risks, said Emily Gibson, director of the Western Washington University Student Health Center. When combined, there is a delay in the body’s response to the alcohol; when consuming alcohol alone, the body becomes increasingly drowsy to the point of the drinker being unable to consume anymore alcohol.
When alcohol and energy drinks are combined, Redbull and vodka for example, a delay in this effect occurs because of the alcohol combining with the stimulant, Gibson said. The drinker continues to consume alcohol because the caffeine in the energy drink counter-acts the sedation that results from normal alcohol consumption, raising their body’s alcohol levels. Then significant memory impairment ensues, causing the drinker to black out.
“This results in a potentially lethal situation of toxic levels of alcohol being reached as the shorter-acting stimulant wears off, resulting in uncontrolled vomiting, and impaired respiration,” Gibson said.
Students tend to not understand their vulnerability to the lethal effects of high blood levels of alcohol, Gibson said. The common practice of competitive drinking and overdrinking can stimulate the adverse effects of the overconsumption of alcohol with energy drinks; making the drinker continue to feel awake and able to keep drinking, raising their alcohol intake to toxic levels.
Impaired judgment and memory, uncontrolled vomiting and respiratory depression can all be caused by combining alcohol and energy drinks, Gibson said. Developing a higher tolerance for increased amounts of alcohol is a trait that can lead to alcohol dependency issues.
“Don’t mix alcohol with energy drinks, with other beverages, with medications, with other drugs…there’s too many alcohol-drug interactions that are possible that can go wrong,” Giddings said.