In keeping up with the trend of mixing energy drinks with liquor, some manufacturers have opted to cut out the middle man and incorporate the alcohol into the beverage itself. To some, this may seem like an innovative and accommodating gesture. To others, this merger is a bad idea for a number of reasons.

In 2007, Anheuser-Busch released Spykes, a 2-ounce energy drink with an alcohol content of 12 percent. In May of that year, the company received nearly 30 letters from state attorneys general, outlining concerns about the product.

The packaging of these drinks, as well as flavor options like hot chocolate and spicy mango, triggered concern that Spykes marketing was aimed toward the primary non-alcoholic energy drink market, namely teenagers and young adults.

Continued backlash led to Anheuser-Busch's decision to pull Spykes from the market. Since that time, however, beverage companies, including Anheuser-Busch, have flooded the market with a wide variety of alcohol-infused energy drinks. Moreover, these products are packaged and advertised in such a way that concerns over the underage demographic remain valid.

"If kids are drinking these, it increases the risk for alcohol addiction down the road," says Rex Stevenson, Army Substance Abuse Program coordinator. "Parents should be fully aware of the labels and contents of the energy drinks their children are consuming."

Marketing tactics for alcoholic energy drinks continue to closely resemble those employed for their alcohol-free counterparts. The drinks come in cans that so closely mimic the size, shape and graphic design of non-alcoholic energy drinks, many untrained store clerks are having trouble telling them apart. As a result, underage drinkers are having little trouble obtaining these beverages.

Because of this, kids may have an easier time drinking out in the open. "Parents will see it as an energy drink. If your youth comes in the house with a different-colored can and he's drinking it right in front of you, you're not going to pick up the can and read the ingredients," says Brenda Brake, a representative of Parents Helping Parents.

From a nutritional standpoint, energy drinks are still a relatively new concept. Because of this, there is little evidence outlining the long-term effects of these beverages. What is known about these trendy new beverages is this: alcohol acts as a depressant on the body's central nervous system. Mixing depressants with stimulants such as caffeine and guarana can have a variety of adverse affects on the body.

Energy drinks, as of the date of this publication, are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, they do not have to adhere to the 65 mg of caffeine per serving limitations set for food and beverages. According to the FDA, an additive must be proven unsafe to be forcibly banned from foods and beverages. As a result, the current market contains energy drinks that contain as much as 300 mg of caffeine per serving, over four times the recommended amount.

When alcohol is added to these high-octane drinks, the body begins to receive mixed signals. While the Blood Alcohol Content increases, the effects of the alcohol are masked by the energy-inducing stimulants.

"Energy drinks are fine in moderation. As soon as you start mixing them with alcohol, you're just a wide-awake drunk," says Stevenson.

The danger of this combination lies in the fact that the stimulants can mask the effects of alcohol, making a person feel sober and in control. He may feel that impulsive actions like driving under the influence is safe, only to have the stimulants wear off while he's behind the wheel.

Studies of the combined effects of alcohol and caffeine were published in 2005 by Marina Kushner, who founded the Caffeine Awareness Alliance. Results indicated that the stimulants will not counter the depressant effects of alcohol on the central nervous system. In addition, they can cause cardiovascular afflictions.

"When taken together, caffeine and alcohol increase heart rate," said Kushner.

The addition of heavy stimulants can also mask fatigue and nausea, two natural warning signals that the body has ingested too much alcohol.

This can lead to serious health crises such as alcohol poisoning and/or aspiration. Even in non-severe cases, people are ingesting two elements (caffeine and alcohol) that are very dehydrating, which hinders the body's ability to metabolize toxins.

It is not yet known whether the FDA will step in and regulate the marketing or nutritional components of these beverages. In the meantime, Stevenson asks that people remain vigilant. "Soldiers should be mindful of the alcohol content of these beverages."

Page last updated Fri August 20th, 2010 at 17:44