Energy drinks are marketed as a stimulant, and contain ingredients such as caffeine, taurine and vitamins. They can also contain high levels of sugar. So why is it dangerous to mix them with alcohol?
The risks of mixing alcohol and energy drinks
Energy drinks can mask the sedative effects of alcohol, making people less aware of how much they’ve had to drink.1 The very high levels of caffeine in energy drinks work against the drowsiness effects of alcohol in what researchers describe as ‘wide awake drunk’.2 This means we are likely to miss the signals our bodies usually send when we’ve had too much to drink and could end up drinking more alcohol than we normally would.
Evidence shows that if we combine alcohol and energy drinks we may soon experience negative physical and psychological side effects – more so than if you drank alcohol on its own.3,4 This includes heart palpitations, potentially dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, problems sleeping and feeling tense or agitated.5,6
The stimulant effects of energy drinks and the lowered inhibition caused by drinking alcohol can mean we are more likely to do things we wouldn’t normally do, and take serious risks we wouldn’t take if we were sober.
Calories in energy drinks
As well as the calories in alcohol, the high calorie content in many energy drinks can lead to weight gain if we drink them regularly.7 A small can of energy drink contains up to 30g of sugar8 Many alcoholic drinks are also high in calories, so a 50ml measure of spirits, mixed with energy drink, contains 122 calories.9
Low-risk drinking guidelines
To keep the risks to our health at a low level, the UK Chief Medical Officers recommend we drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis, and if you do drink as much as this, spread the drinks across the week with several drink-free days every week.