Mixing Alcohol and Caffeine Makes Drinkers Feel More Impulsive, Says Study

Mixing booze and caffeine makes drinkers feel more impulsive.

ByABC News
April 15, 2011, 12:59 PM

April 15, 2011— -- Mixing booze with energy drinks like Red Bull might be just as dangerous as drinking pre-made concoctions like Four Loko, which were recently banned by the feds following a string of college student hospitalizations and deaths, says a new study.

The cocktail of alcohol and Red Bull is more likely to trigger impulsive and often risky behavior than drinking traditional cocktails like a gin and tonic, according to the study by Cecile Marczinski, assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University and colleagues published today in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Consumers should be aware that there are safety issues here with mixing energy drinks and alcohol," Marczinski said. "It may lead you to make poor decisions because you aren't really aware how intoxicated you are. You feel more awake, more alert."

Marczinski said the sedative effect of alcohol is negated by the caffeine and other stimulants, such as taurine, in energy drinks.

"Sedation or tiredness is a cue to stop drinking at the end of an evening. But mixing alcohol with an energy drink may lead you to drink more than you normally would," Marczinski said.

Classic cocktails like gin and tonic and rum and coke are increasingly being replaced by drinks like vodka-Red Bull and Jager Bombs -- Red Bull with a shot of spicy, 70-proof Jagermeister dropped in (glass and all).

The study follows a federal ban on the sale of alcoholic energy drinks like Four Loko, nicknamed "blackout in a can." The ban stemmed from a series of hospitalizations and even deaths among college students who downed the combo drinks to get wide-awake drunk.

The study by Marczinski and colleagues, which compared feelings of stimulation, sedation, and intoxication among 56 college students randomly assigned to drink vodka and Red Bull, vodka and soda, Red Bull alone or soda alone, adds to growing evidence that caffeine changes alcohol's effects on the body.

"From this study we really can conclude that these mixed beverages are pharmacologically distinct from just alcohol," Marczinski said. "They cause you to perceive intoxication levels differently even though you're equally impaired."