Background: There has been a dramatic rise in the consumption of alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmED) in young people. AmED have been implicated in risky drinking practices and greater accidents and injuries have been associated with their consumption. Despite the increased popularity of these beverages (e.g., Red Bull and vodka), there is little laboratory research examining how the effects of AmED differ from alcohol alone. This experiment was designed to investigate if the consumption of AmED alters neurocognitive and subjective measures of intoxication compared with the consumption of alcohol alone.
Methods: Participants (n = 56) attended 1 session where they were randomly assigned to receive one of 4 doses (0.65 g/kg alcohol, 3.57 ml/kg energy drink, AmED, or a placebo beverage). Performance on a cued go/no-go task was used to measure the response of inhibitory and activational mechanisms of behavioral control following dose administration. Subjective ratings of stimulation, sedation, impairment, and level of intoxication were recorded.
Results: Alcohol alone impaired both inhibitory and activational mechanisms of behavioral control, as evidenced by increased inhibitory failures and increased response times compared to baseline performance. Coadministration of the energy drink with alcohol counteracted some of the alcohol-induced impairment of response activation, but not response inhibition. For subjective effects, alcohol increased ratings of stimulation, feeling the drink, liking the drink, impairment, and level of intoxication, and alcohol decreased the rating of ability to drive. Coadministration of the energy drink with alcohol increased self-reported stimulation, but resulted in similar ratings of the other subjective effects as when alcohol was administered alone.
Conclusions: An energy drink appears to alter some of the objective and subjective impairing effects of alcohol, but not others. Thus, AmED may contribute to a high-risk scenario for the drinker. The mix of impaired behavioral inhibition and enhanced stimulation is a combination that may make AmED consumption riskier than alcohol consumption alone.