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How are energy drinks linked to drunk driving?

Highly-caffeinated energy drinks have become increasingly common in recent years — particularly among college students who often use them to stay awake to study or finish a project. Aside from the obvious dangers of too much caffeine, these drinks pose an even greater risk if consumed with alcohol.

The consumption of energy drinks and alcohol creates what researchers call a “wide-awake drunk.” People who have a considerable amount of caffeine their system and consume alcohol may not realize just how much they’ve had to drink. The added energy combined with the impact of alcohol on their inhibitions can cause people to engage in risky behavior — including drunk driving.

After a number of reports of alcohol poisoning and blackout drinking, the Food and Drug Administration warned beverage makers in 2010 about the dangers of energy drinks containing alcohol. However, people can just as easily pour their alcohol into their energy drink for the same results.

In a study recently published in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research,” researchers tracked 1,000 college students over six years to help determine the link between energy drink consumption, alcohol consumption and drunk driving. The results depended on self-reporting by participants of these behaviors.

However, they found a strong link between those who reported driving drunk and those who reported consuming energy drinks — whether they reported consuming them with alcohol or not. Not surprisingly, the link was even greater among students who said that they consumed energy drinks and alcohol together.

Why would there be a link between drunk driving and energy drink use even for people who didn’t combine their energy drink with alcohol? Researchers hypothesized that energy drinks are marketed to people “characterized by an idealized notion of an exciting, active lifestyle with a proudly carefree and undaunted attitude of ‘living for the moment,'” without considering the consequences. While many people who have this joie de vivre don’t drive drunk, too many others do.

There’s certainly more research to be done on this phenomenon. If energy drinks are looked at and reported in drunk driving crashes, the findings may well lend credence to the dangers of mixing alcohol and highly-caffeinated drinks.

Source: Ars Technica, “Non-alcoholic energy drinks that give you wings linked to drunk driving,” Beth Mole, Sep. 28, 2016

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