Energy drinks, alcohol may affect perception of impairment

April 20, 2011

A study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research shows that pairing energy drinks with alcohol affects perception of behavioral impairment. The participants—56 college students between the ages of 21 and 33—were divided into four groups. The students received either an alcoholic beverage, an energy drink, a mixed drink with both ingredients, or a placebo. All drinks were made to look and taste like alcoholic energy drinks, so participants did not know which they were consuming. Researchers measured how quickly the students could execute and suppress actions after the dose and asked them to rate feelings such as stimulation, sedation, impairment, and levels of intoxication.

The researchers found that all of the students who drank alcohol showed impaired impulse control. But those who drank the alcoholic energy drink perceived themselves to be less impaired than those who drank the same dose of alcohol alone, which could make them more likely to take risks such as driving while intoxicated.

Study author Cecile Marczinski, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological Science at Northern Kentucky University, said that the stimulation from caffeinated alcoholic drinks counters the sedating effects of alcohol, making drinkers feel like they’re not quite as affected by the liquor. However, the energy drinks don’t alter the level of behavioral impairment, just the perception of it.

The researchers noted that further studies are needed to determine whether the energy drink cocktails are escalating risky drinking practices among young people, who already demonstrate high levels of binge drinking.

Maureen Storey, Senior Vice President of Science Policy for the American Beverage Association (ABA), responded to the study’s findings stating:

“Our industry agrees that underage and binge drinking are serious public health problems. However, they will not be addressed by focusing on non-alcoholic beverages, but rather through efforts such as educating young adults about the effects of consuming alcohol. In fact, the authors’ concentration on energy drinks, rather than alcohol, does nothing to shed light on the serious problems of underage drinking, excessive alcohol consumption, and alcoholism among young adults.”

Abstract

ABA statement