Mixing caffeine, alcohol poses risk

By Meghan McSloy
July 10, 2010

Twitching, uncontrollable shaking and erratic behavior, three symptoms of cocaine use, are not typically associated with the consumption of alcohol. However, these anomalies are beginning to be applied to alcohol use due to an increase in popularity of drinks that combine alcohol with caffeine.

Many college students are aware of the risks of binge drinking and the dangers imposed by drinking too much alcohol but with new drinks such as Four Loko, Red Bull, vodka and Joose gaining popularity, students are failing to realize the health implications of consuming these beverages, despite the good feelings they get from drinking it.

“People think that they are going to avoid the depressant effects of alcohol by adding caffeine but it really does not work that way.” Susan Fitzgerald, Cabrini nurse, said.

One of the newer and highly popular drinks, Four Loko, is being examined by attorneys general’s in several states due to its cocaine-like effects one those who consume it. These states are taking a closer look at potential health risks of the drink and how it is being marketed to the population. Four Loko in particular, attracts the college aged population. On its Facebook fan page, the drink has over 144,000 “fans.”

According to Mary Rose, associate nurse at Cabrini, the alcohol, which is a depressant, works against the caffeine, which is a stimulant.

“The alcohol in the drink works against the energy boost of the caffeine.”

The alcohol content of Four Loko surpasses the amount in many other alcoholic beverages.

“One can of Four Loko has twice the amount of alcohol than an average can of beer,” Rose said.

Four Loko has been dubbed the nickname “liquid cocaine” because of its striking similarities to the effects of cocaine on the body.

The reason why these drinks are so dangerous is because one single drink contains the equivalent to three beers accompanied by a large amount of caffeine. The caffeine creates an “alert but relaxed” feeling. Because of these stimulants, a person drinking an alcoholic energy drink is less aware of the effects of the alcohol.

“College-aged drinkers of alcoholic energy drink cocktails are more likely to get drunk, because they do not feel the depressant effects of the alcohol when they are drinking it because of the caffeine. People will tend to drink more because they do not realize the effects,” Fitzgerald said.

Since caffeine and alcohol are both diuretics, they cause dehydration at twice the normal rate of a regular alcoholic beverage. The caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol on the body, making the person less aware of their impairment, making them more likely to sustain an injury or engage in risky behaviors such as drunk driving.

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Meghan McSloy

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