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Alcohol + Energy Drinks = Recipe for Harm

Alcohol + Energy Drinks = Recipe for HarmA popular practice among adolescents and young adults is mixing alcohol with energy drinks (A+ED), and a new Australian study looks at motivations for this dangerous behavior.

Researchers discovered young adults report pleasure-seeking or hedonistic motives related to sensation and pleasure ideals override fear of addiction or overdose.

Study findings will be published in an online-only issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

“Several Australian studies have shown that consumption of A+EDs has become popular in Australia, similar to trends in the U.S. and throughout Europe,” said Nic Droste, a doctoral candidate and researcher in the school of psychology at Deakin University in Australia.

“One large study that conducted patron interviews in the nightlife districts of five Australian cities found that approximately 15 percent of patrons had consumed A+EDs at the time of interview. They also found that A+ED users had higher blood alcohol concentration readings than non-A+ED users.”

“Recent survey research by our group indicates that just under half of young adults surveyed reported mixing alcohol with energy drinks in the previous six months,” added co-author Amy Peacock, a researcher in the school of medicine/psychology at the University of Tasmania.

“This is quite similar to rates reported internationally in university student samples. Consumers in Australia typically report consuming A+EDs in excess of recommended intake guidelines, however it is important to note that this excess alcohol consumption also occurs when people are drinking alcohol without energy drinks.”

“‘Hedonism’ is a commonly used term in the alcohol field which, in this case, refers to people who are trying to increase pleasure and enjoyment, as opposed to other motivations for drinking such as taste, energy, sociability, or to increase or decrease intoxication,” added Droste.

Droste and his colleagues asked 594 university students (395 females, 199 males), with a mean age of 22.3 years, in Victoria, Australia to complete an anonymous online survey in 2012. The sample was limited to participants who had reported consuming A+EDs in the previous three months.

The 14 items measuring motivations for A+ED consumption subsequently identified four factors — categorized as hedonistic, social, energy/endurance, and intoxication-reduction motives — as pertinent.

“Our study is the first to show that people’s motivations for mixing A+EDs can help to predict whether or not they experience negative outcomes like aggression and violence, alcohol-related injury, and can also indicate their risk for AD,” said Droste.

“It is particularly noteworthy that people who reported using alcohol and energy drinks for ‘hedonistic motives’ — that is, for the taste or the ‘buzz’ — are at higher risk of reporting one, greater alcohol and ED intake, two, alcohol dependence, and three, being in an accident, being injured, or experiencing aggression whilst intoxicated,” added Peacock.

“Hedonistic motives like pleasure seeking and desire for drunkenness have been linked to heavy alcohol use in the past, so the fact that similar motives were implicated with heavier A+ED use makes sense,” said Droste.

“This study is unique because it is the first to link the distinctive motives for combined A+ED use with negative outcomes and increased alcohol consumption.”

Droste said one result was a bit surprising. “People who drank A+EDs to sober up were actually at an increased risk of experiencing alcohol-related injuries and harms,” he said. “This finding is interesting because it could mean that consumers are incorrect if they are assuming that drinking caffeine might reduce their intoxication.”

He added that there could be a number of reasons for this misbelief. “Energy drinks are advertised as providing a boost to attention and mental and physical performance,” he said.

“It could be that this marketing strategy leads drinkers to believe that energy drinks could cancel out some of the effects of alcohol. Beyond this, hundreds of movies and TV shows have shown coffee as being a cure-all for drunks that need to sober up quickly.

“Maybe this is the latest phase of a long-standing myth that caffeine will help people sober up faster so that they can fool their boss, their spouse, the police, their bartender, or the security guard at the door!”

“These results suggest that different motivations for consuming alcohol with energy drinks are associated with greater risk of certain alcohol-related harms,” said Peacock.

“Consequently, we need to develop education campaigns targeted at those consumers who are driven in their beverage choice by these motives to make sure they are accurately informed about the potential effects of mixing the two beverages together, and are aware of the current Australian recommended intake guidelines for alcohol and energy drinks.”

“Staying vigilant is definitely the core message here,” said Droste.

“Mixing alcohol with energy drinks is still a fairly new drinking behavior so there will be plenty of new research coming out explaining what is safe and what should be avoided.

“Until then, pay attention to the warning labels on packaging of energy drinks and alcohol, they’re there for a reason. Finally, drinkers need to know that they shouldn’t be using energy drinks in an attempt to sober up and reduce their drunkenness. Our study has linked this behavior to increased harm and injury.”

Peacock agreed. “People need to be proactive about seeking accurate information about mixing A+EDs, and consider their motivations for consuming these beverages, as well as the potential consequences of use,” she said.

Source: Australia Resource Council

Alcohol + Energy Drinks = Recipe for Harm

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Alcohol + Energy Drinks = Recipe for Harm. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 May 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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