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Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

Energy Drinks and Alcohol

With the recent reports of students on college campuses becoming seriously intoxicated due to consumption of energy drinks that contain alcohol the safety of these beverages is under close scrutiny. This fall reports of students being hospitalized in Washington State and in New Jersey, where Ramapo College has banned the drink Four Loko have surfaced. One of the Four Loko drinks comes in a 23.5 ounce can that contains 12 percent alcohol. You would have to drink almost six cans of Bud Light beer to get the same amount of alcohol. The drinks also contain a heavy dose of caffeine. The fruit punch-flavored Four Loko has 156 milligrams of caffeine. An eight ounce cup of coffee, in comparison, has roughly 100 milligrams of caffeine (16 ounce servings of coffee from Starbucks, Einstein Brothers, or Dunkin’ Donuts may contain over 300 milligram of caffeine).

The effects of mixing alcohol and energy drinks are not fully known due to a lack of research on the topic. High doses of caffeine can result in increased anxiety, panic attacks, rise in blood pressure, insomnia and bowel irritability. The herbal ingredients in these energy drinks have not been fully researched either but could be risky when mixed with alcohol. Energy drinks have caffeine as their primary ingredient as well as other stimulants such as guarana, an herbal stimulant which enhances the effect of caffeine. Energy drinks such as Monster do not contain alcohol but are commonly mixed with liquor such as vodka. Sparks, Four Loko, Joose and Torque are examples of caffeine drinks that are pre-mixed with alcohol.

A major concern with energy drinks that contain alcohol or are mixed with alcohol is the manner in which they are being marketed. The drinks are sweet tasting and their cans are brightly decorated to appeal to youth. Energy drinks that do not contain alcohol look identical to those that do. This can cause confusion among consumers, police, and parents as to who is drinking what. Marketing to a younger demographic who may not understand the risks involved in combining high levels of alcohol and caffeine is a concern. Consumers of energy drinks that contain alcohol or who mix them with alcohol may falsely believe that they are less impaired due to the caffeine in energy drinks which causes people to feel wide awake. This can lead to increased consumption of alcohol with the perception that activities such as driving are safer than they actually are.

Efforts to curb or ban the sale of these drinks include California’s recent passing of Assembly Bill 346 which requires warning labels on “alcopops” (alcoholic beverages mixed with energy drinks and sweeteners) indicating that they contain alcohol. In December of 2008 Anheuser-Busch, the maker of drinks such Tilt, Bud Extra and Sparks reformulated their drinks in response to FDA inquiries about their safety. Phusion, the company that produces Four Loko, also referred to as “Blackout in a Can” or “Cocaine in a Can” was warned by the FDA in 2009 that their drinks were being investigated. Further reports from the FDA about the safety of these beverages are pending.


By Courtney Stewart,   11/1/2010