Alcohol and Energy Drinks May Lead to More Drunk Driving

By Paul Gaita 12/18/14

People who combine booze and energy drinks admitted to getting behind the wheel of a car more often than those who only drink alcohol.

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A new study corroborates a slew of recent findings about the combined effects of alcohol and energy drinks by suggesting that those who drink such a concoction are more likely to drive while intoxicated than individuals who only drink alcohol.

The study, conducted by researchers from Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Western States among others, surveyed 355 college students as to their alcoholic beverage intake. Two hundred and eighty-one of the participants stated that they drank alcohol within the last month, with an additional 107 from that subset admitting they drank alcohol and energy drinks together.

Among the “combined users," around 57% stated that they had gotten behind the wheel of a car when they knew they were too drunk to drive, while 56% said that they had gotten into a car with a driver whose blood alcohol content was over the legal limit. The combined users also posted higher numbers when asked about the amount of days they drank alcohol, as well as the amount of times they drank heavily or engaged in binge drinking.

As with other research, the study does not draw a direct correlation between the consumption of alcohol and energy drinks and higher-risk behavior. As study author Conrad L. Woolsey of the University of Western States noted, “People who mix energy drinks with alcohol might be risk-takers in general.”

But research has determined that the high levels of sugar, caffeine and ingredients like herbal stimulants found in energy drinks can have an effect on the physiological chemistry of the brain—specifically, they may increase levels of dopamine, an effect already produced by the consumption of alcohol. Many drinks also include taurine, an amino acid that has been used to treat alcohol dependency that reduces anxiety levels and heart rate.

“[Consuming energy drinks] does change the brain chemistry to make you more confident,” stated Woolsey, which in turn, may lead to riskier behavior.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.