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Alcohol/Energy Drink Combo Leads to Higher Intoxication, Driving Risk
The study's lead researcher, Dennis Thombs, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions' Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health, told AAFP News Now that one of the major risks in combining energy drinks with alcohol is that consumers perceive that they are okay to drive when they are not.
"Caffeine appears to reduce subjective perceptions of alcohol intoxication, but it does not ameliorate the performance deficits produced by alcohol," said Thombs. "(Individuals) are more alert but just as behaviorally impaired as if they did not consume caffeine."
Among those who completed the entire survey process, 6.5 percent reported consuming energy drinks mixed with alcohol during the past 12 hours. Those participants were almost three times more intoxicated than those who stuck with regular alcohol, according to the study.
Researchers found that when mixing energy drinks and alcohol, users may become desensitized to the symptoms of alcohol intoxication. This may increase the potential for alcohol-related harm.
FP Steven Masley, M.D., medical director at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, told AAFP News Now that he does not see a problem with energy drinks alone.
"From a health perspective, if a person keeps drinks to a minimum, there is really no high risk," said Masley. College-aged adults may feel better when they have caffeine because they often are over-tired, but when energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, they offset normal fatigue. "There is now a 7.9 percent increase (in these individuals) staying out later, leaving a bar drunk and believing (they are) okay to drive," said Masley.
He noted that he has incorporated an "age-appropriate" survey about the issue in his practice.
"Asking if my patients mix alcohol and energy drinks is an important question," said Masley. "It is like asking any high-risk question; it is like asking if you smoke. These are all very warranted questions for adults to ask their college-aged patients."
Masley said that if a patient indicates that he or she does mix alcohol with energy drinks, then Masley will ask that patient to give his or her perception about mixing the two. "It is important to let the patient clarify why he is engaging in such a high-risk behavior," said Masley. "After I let the patient talk, I then go in and ... explain why they should not be mixing the two together."
According to Masley, the most important step in building the physician/patient relationship among college-age patients is allowing them to explain their point-of-view.