Adding alcohol to energy drinks has become common, especially among young adults. New research suggests that this trend encourages people to drink more than they normally would.
A recent study found that adding alcohol to energy drinks increased people’s desire to drink more in one sitting compared to drinking alcohol by itself.
The researchers said they believe that this increased urge to keep drinking alcohol could lead to more alcohol-related problems like drunk driving and violence.
The lead author of this study was Rebecca McKetin, BSc, PhD, from the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Well-Being at the Australian National University in Canberra.
The study included 75 people between the ages of 18 and 30 who had consumed alcohol and energy drinks within the six months prior to the study period. The average age of the participants was 22, and 60 percent of the participants were women.
None of the participants had ever been treated for alcohol or drug dependence or a psychiatric illness.
The researchers randomly split the participants into two groups. Thirty-nine of the participants were given a drink with just alcohol in it, and 36 received a drink with a mix of alcohol and energy drink.
The participants took an Alcohol Urge Questionnaire prior to and 20 minutes after drinking.
After drinking, the participants also filled out questionnaires on how much they liked drinking the cocktails, whether they wanted to drink more and the effects they felt.
Then, the researchers measured the concentration of alcohol in each participant’s breath after the 20-minute, post-drinking period.
The researchers found that the participants who drank the alcohol plus energy drink had a greater increase in the urge to drink from pre-test to post-test compared to the participants who drank only alcohol.
"We found that when people drink alcohol plus energy drinks that they have a stronger desire to keep drinking than if they drank alcohol on its own," Dr. McKetin said in a press statement.
"This would mean that someone who drinks alcohol plus energy drinks would want to keep drinking more than their friends who don't. What we can't say is whether this translates into people drinking more," Dr. McKetin said. "Obviously other factors would play a role there — people can over-ride their desires and many things play into a decision about whether someone would keep drinking or not. However, if it did translate into greater alcohol consumption, we would expect to see people who drink alcohol plus energy drinks drinking more than their peers who don't."
The study's findings also showed that the participants who drank the energy drink cocktail reported liking the drink significantly more than the participants who drank alcohol alone. Likewise, the alcohol plus energy drink group reported wanting to drink more of the cocktail significantly more than the alcohol-only group.
Dr. McKetin and team discovered that the participants in the alcohol plus energy drink group had lower breath alcohol concentrations 20 minutes after drinking compared to the participants who drank alcohol alone.
However, the findings revealed no significant differences between the groups in terms of stimulation, sedation or feeling the effects of the alcohol or cocktail.
"The most important implication of the findings is in terms of policies around the sale of energy drinks in bars and night clubs where people are consuming alcohol, and the sale of pre-mixed alcohol plus energy drinks more generally," Dr. McKetin said.
"Our findings suggest that energy drinks may increase people drinking to intoxication, and consequently increase the risk of alcohol-related problems like drunk-driving and alcohol-fuelled violence. Our study alone does not provide enough evidence to advocate for restrictions on the availability of energy drinks in bars, but it is an important step," she said.
This study was limited because the researchers did not try to adjust the alcohol dose for body weight or gender, and the measurements taken regarding the urge to drink were subjective. In addition, the findings were based on combining energy drinks with small amounts of alcohol, so they may not indicate generalizations about drinking alcohol.
This study was published July 17 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
The School of Psychology at the Australian National University provided funding.