A team of researchers from the Department of Psychology at Palo Alto University, California, US has conducted a systematic review of the effects of mixing energy drinks with alcohol. The study examined the behaviours of young adults aged 25 and below. The study aimed to analyse the physical and sexual aggression displayed after consuming these mixed drinks. 17 studies which had been conducted prior to March this year were reviewed and their conclusions analysed. The study was published in the Clinical Psychological Review.
Researchers found that mixed-beverage consumers were six times more likely to get into a fight than those who only consumed alcohol.
- Brawls, bullying, victimisation, and sexual violence were the most common behaviours observed among them.
The researchers who carried out the study believe that the number of violent incidents that occur each day would decrease if mixed beverages were stopped being sold in public.
Wide-awake alcohol impairment
The study found that mixing energy drinks with alcohol had the potential of increasing the likelihood of violent behaviour after consumption.
Researchers believe that this is because alcoholic mixed drinks have the ability to mask physiological cues. The consumer effectively becomes stimulated the more they drink. On the other hand, alcohol is a depressant. The energy drink effectively negates the sedative effect that intoxication has. This is known as wide-awake alcohol impairment, as the individual is both highly stimulated and impaired in cognitive and motor functions. Co-author Professor Amie Haas described the effects of mixing alcohol with energy drinks, as per The Sun U.S.:
Adding an energy drink covers up the sedating effects that happen at moderate-to-higher levels of intoxication. This is something called ‘wide-awake drunkenness.”Amie Haas, study co-author and Professor, Palo Alto University
The study establishes that mixed alcohol-energy drink beverages are ‘significantly associated with aggressive behaviours’.
Individuals under the influence of the beverage are also twice as likely to take advantage of another sexually. The study however makes no claims of correlation between the two.
The researchers state that more nuanced studies are required to establish the nature of the relationship between the two. It is not specifically the combination of alcohol and energy beverages that makes people more violent – the people who order alcohol energy drink mixes are equally as aggressive on nights they drink alcohol alone.
That means it might not be the alcohol and energy drink mix which causes aggression, but the type of person who orders it could exhibit more violent tendencies than someone who sticks to alcohol and another mixer.
The study however clearly shows a causal relationship between mixed beverages and violence in that increased consumption results in an increased risk of the other.
Clearly, consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks is a ‘high-risk practice’ – not only because of the effects it has on the physical health of consumers, but also concerning the impact on mental health, as well as community safety and well-being.
Professor Haas believes that limiting the availability of mixed alcohol drinks would help in preventing alcohol-induced violence.
Experts asserts the number of violent incidents would decrease if pubs and clubs stopped selling alcohol mixed energy drinks. They are calling for warnings of the dangers of these youth-targeted alcoholic products displayed to the public.
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said as per The Sun U.S. reporting:
The real picture here is that alcohol is a major factor in violence across society, across all age groups, and is a risk factor for both victims as well as perpetrators.
Our police forces spend millions of hours dealing with alcohol-related incidents, our courts are clogged up processing alcohol-related crimes, and tens of thousands of people’s lives are permanently affected by these crimes.
Yet much of this could be prevented if we took simple, sensible actions to reduce alcohol harm.”Dr Richard Piper, chief executive, Alcohol Change UK
He says that limiting the marketing and promotion of these products in supermarkets and online as an urgent solution.
Minimum unit pricing to prevent alcohol harm
Dr. Piper also believes that a minimum unit pricing (MUP) solution in England, similar to Scotland and Wales would help prevent alcohol harm.
Scotland introduced its MUP policy in May, 2018. The policy ensured that alcohol retailers could not sell alcohol to consumers for less than £0.50 per unit (1 UK unit = 8 g/10 mL ethanol). The legislation included a ‘sunset clause’ that required the MUP to end after 6 years unless approved for renewal. State authorities therefore commissioned an evaluation of the policy in mid-2023.
Analysis of household panel data showed that a fifth of households that purchased the most alcohol reduced alcohol purchases. MUP also reduced the alcohol consumption of those who consumed alcohol the least, which were mostly women. It has to be noted that the study was limited in the data that was available. This was due to short pre- and post-intervention time series (e.g. 2015–2018) as well as full-year breaks where data was not available.
However, the study clearly established that there was a significant decrease in binge alcohol consumption.
In both Wales and Scotland, alcohol cannot be sold for less than 50p per 10ml unit of pure alcohol.
So, a 75cl bottle of wine at 14% ABV, which will contain 10.5 units, will not be found on sale for less than £5.25. But in England, similar products can be found on sale for less than £4.
Minors and Youth Most at Risk
Dr. Katherine Severi, Chief Executive of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, also noted the marketing surrounding alcohol energy drink mixtures as a cause for concern, according to LadBible reporting. These marketing campaigns specifically target younger generations through their messaging and with the product itself. Despite being the demographic predominantly targeted, young people are also more likely to be victims of the violence that such beverages instigate.
Movendi International reported on a study conducted in early 2020 that examined the link between energy drink consumption and substance use. The data for the study was derived from the 2017 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, which was representative of students from the 7th to the 12th grades.
The study found that energy drink consumption was associated with tobacco, cannabis, opioid, and alcohol use. The association between energy drink consumption and substance use was stronger among middle school students compared to high school students.
According to findings by the Purdue University, the effects of mixing high energy drinks with alcohol is also similar to that of cocaine to teens. The combination damages the brain’s reward centre and which has impacts that lasts long into adulthood.
Despite all these harms and negative consequences for young people, communities and societies, for the alcohol industry these products are highly attractive because the generate profits and “train” young people to consume lots of alcohol.
Big Alcohol targets youth through energy drinks
As Movendi International also reported on previously, sugary drinks multinationals are increasing their investments in the alcohol industry.
Most concerningly, the product image and packaging employed by energy drinks products deliberately confuses their non-alcoholic and alcoholic products.
In addition, youth who are already familiar with the taste of energy drinks will feel more comfortable about mixing alcohol with them.