Thursday, November 8, 2007

It may give you wings, but mixing with booze puts drinkers in danger

YOUNG drinkers could be putting themselves at risk by downing alcohol mixed with energy drinks, new research suggested yesterday.

Mixing drinks such as Red Bull (slogan: It gives you wings) with spirits has become a popular way of boosting energy levels to keep clubbers dancing all night.

But a new study, involving more than 4,000 students, found that drinking cocktails of alcohol and energy drinks doubled the risk of clubbers getting hurt or taken advantage of sexually.

Campaigners warned that more information was needed on the potential risks of mixing alcohol and energy drinks, which often contain high levels of caffeine and other ingredients.

As well as Red Bull, which sold more than three billion cans worldwide last year, popular energy drinks in the UK include Irn-Bru 32 and Lucozade.

The latest study, which was carried out by researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre in the United States, questioned 4,271 college students about their drinking habits and the consequences.

They found that of those who had drunk alcohol in the previous 30 days, a quarter (24 per cent) said they had consumed energy cocktails.

Compared with students who did not mix alcohol and energy drinks, this group were twice as likely to be hurt or injured after drinking, twice as likely to need medical attention and twice as likely to travel with a drunken driver.

They also faced double the risk of either taking sexual advantage of someone else, or being taken advantage of themselves.

The cocktails also seemed to affect the amount they drank.

In a typical drinking session, those on mixed drinks drank up to 36 per cent more than the other students. They also reported twice as many episodes of weekly drunkenness.

Dr Mary Claire O'Brien, lead researcher on the study, said: "We knew anecdotally - from speaking with students, and from researching internet blogs and websites - that college students mix energy drinks and alcohol in order to drink more, and to drink longer.

"But we were surprised that the risk of serious and potentially deadly consequences is so much higher for those who mixed energy drinks with alcohol," she continued, "even when we adjusted for the amount of alcohol."

Dr O'Brien said that mixing caffeine with alcohol was like "getting into a car and stepping on the gas pedal and the brake at the same time".

"Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment are impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they're also ingesting a stimulant," she said. "Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced - but not the drunkenness.

"They can't tell if they're drunk; they can't tell if someone else is drunk. So they get hurt, or they hurt someone else."

Dr O'Brien said some energy drinks could contain as much as 300 milligrams of caffeine.

The researcher, speaking at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Washington DC, called for students to be informed of the risks of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

Frank Soodeen, spokesman for the charity Alcohol Concern, said there was a growing popularity in mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

But he added there was currently very little information on the consequences.

"There isn't a great deal of information on what levels of drinking are doing to young people, including the impact of mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

"We need clear guidance for young people and parents over what impact different levels of drinking can have.

"We have heard that people do often mix alcohol with these energy drinks and if that is a concern, we need to find out more about it."

• ENERGY drinks often contain a mixture of ingredients, such as caffeine, vitamins and herbs.

Some products also include guarana - extracts from the guarana plant - ginseng and ginkgo biloba.

Many have high levels of sugar to help boost energy levels.

But caffeine remains the main energy-boosting ingredient, with an average energy-drink serving containing about the same amount as a small cup of coffee.

Last year, research showed that about 65 per cent of energy-drink users were under the age of 35.

But there has been criticism over the potential health effects of drinking large amounts of caffeine.

France banned the sale of the popular Red Bull brand following the death of an 18-year-old who played basketball shortly after consuming several cans of the drink. An inquest ruled that he died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

Denmark has also banned the drink.


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