Energy drinks and drinking more alcohol
They may make you feel like you can stay out all night but mixing alcohol mixed with energy drinks can be a dangerous combination. Energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol, and make you 'wide awake drunk', so you may underestimate how you’re feeling and end up drinking more alcohol than you normally would.
Mixing alcohol and energy drinks can mean you consume more sugar, calories and caffeine than drinking alcohol by itself. You could also experience increased physical and psychological side effects from drinking this combination.
Popularity of energy drinks has increased in recent years. Since 2008, sales have increased by between 5.3 and 13.6% in the UK (1). At the same time, mixing spirits and liqueurs with them has become increasingly popular.
It’s common to see bars, pubs and clubs promoting these drink combinations, and you can buy energy drinks and bottles of alcohol separately in supermarkets and off-licences to mix at home. But recent research has found that mixing energy drinks with alcohol could be more risky than drinking alcohol on its own, or with a more traditional mixer.
We took a look at the research and talked with our medical experts to find out the facts about alcohol and energy drinks. When you combine a lot of the two, we discovered that you:
- Can drink more alcohol, become ‘wide awake drunk’
- Are likely to experience increased physical and psychological side effects, such as heart palpitations, problems sleeping, feeling tense or agitated (4)
- Can consume large amounts of caffeine, which in this quantity, can cause anxiety and panic attacks
- Increase your chances of developing short and long-term health problems (5).
Why you’ll drink more alcohol
Drinking energy drinks with alcohol can trick your brain and lead to a state researchers have called ‘wide awake drunk’ (6). Of course, this is why many people mix them – so they can stay awake longer and drink more alcohol.
But, though you might feel alert when you combine the drinks, your body is still experiencing the effects of alcohol (7). That means you can end up drinking more without realising that your judgement, balance and coordination are being affected. So, you’re more likely to risk doing things that you wouldn’t normally do, like getting into a fight or crossing the road when there’s a car nearby (8).
“Wide awake drunk’ means you’re alert but you underestimate how much you’re drinking and don’t know the alcohol is still affecting your thinking and ability to react in an emergency,” says London-based GP Sarah Jarvis. “It creates a false sense of security which can be dangerous.”
The combination has this effect because alcohol and energy drinks work in different ways. Alcohol is a depressant which means it slows down the brain’s functions and can act as a sedative – drink a lot and you might slur your words, have slower reflexes and feel sleepy. The caffeine in energy drinks, on the other hand, is a stimulant (9). If you mix the two, you’ll feel the stimulant effects of the caffeine more strongly, masking the interference caused by alcohol to reaction time, memory and other processes in the brain (10).