It’s probably not something that the average parent is thinking about, but they should be aware that a continuingly popular trend in the U.S. amongst teenagers is to mix alcohol and energy drinks. This is a potentially deadly combination and one that is attractive to young adults because it gives them the feeling of being able to loosen up in combination with keeping them awake for a long night of partying. Most teens are not daily drinkers but partake in excess on the weekends, or binge drink. In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 1 million high school students engage in binge drinking and on average about 5,000 die each year from an alcohol overdose, alcohol-related car accident, suicide or accidents. Shockingly, by the end of senior year, about 75% of high schoolers have tried alcohol.
An age-old favorite cocktail for young people used to be rum and coke. The sweetness masked any unsatisfying flavor and the caffeine helped to boost energy levels. In the 2000’s pre-made caffeinated drinks hit the market and replaced this cocktail. They were inexpensive and stepped up the level from 1 shot of rum and 1 can of coke to caffeine levels equal to 3 cups of coffee, and an alcohol level equal to 3 cans of beer in one pre-made drink. Thankfully, by 2010 after a rash of emergency room visits and deaths, the FDA stepped in to force these unsafe products off the market.
The attraction to caffeinated alcohol drinks is to stay awake to keep the fun going. This is dangerous because the body’s natural defense against too much alcohol is to put you to sleep, but now the caffeine acts as a stimulant so you keep drinking beyond your limits. When the two are mixed, they don’t cancel each other out but instead make the individual less aware of how intoxicated they really are. The old myth that a cup of coffee will sober you up is just that, a myth. Drinkers think they have sobered up, but it’s just that they are a bit more alert.
One study shows that today, 3 out of 4 college students in Europe and in the U.S. mix alcohol and energy drinks. No, they didn’t go back to the rum and cokes, but now to the Red Bull and vodka. A 12 ounce can of Diet Coke has about 38 – 47 mg of caffeine in it while a 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull has about 79-80 mg of caffeine, almost twice the amount. This is concerning because studies now show us that this combination of alcohol and caffeine leads to an increase in violence, unsafe levels of intoxication and overall impulsiveness. These drinkers are also 3 times more likely to binge drink as a result of not feeling the full impact of the alcohol.
All of this information is to say that it’s important that parents stay current on the recent trends. Even if you think that it could never be your child, the more that parents are open and talk to their kids about the risks and repercussions of underage drinking the higher the chances they will continue to choose to say no.