Raleigh News & Observer higher ed reporter, Eric Ferreri, had a nice frontpage article today on commercially-available energy drinks containing 12% (v/v) ethanol, similar to the amount in wine. These drinks are sold in 23.5 ounce servings, just shy of a 750 mL bottle of wine (25.4 ounces). North Carolina governor, Bev Perdue, wants these products removed from shelves temporarily while the state’s alcoholic beverage commission investigates after Washington and Michigan have banned sale of the products.
Perdue said in a news release Friday she wants the manufacturers to remove them from shelves voluntarily until they’re “proven safe.” A federal Food and Drug Administration study of these energy drinks is under way and eventually may answer the question.
The most prominent of these products is Four Loko, a malt beverage that comes in a variety of sweet, fruity flavors and also contains guarana, taurine and caffeine.
I hate to tell our governor but alcohol alone has been proven unsafe. But I digress.
As Ferreri notes, the trend of mixing caffeinated energy drinks with alcoholic beverages at bars has been common since the early 2000s. But the sale of the pre-mixed products has been relatively recent.
The overall concern with these products doesn’t seem to be that you pound back the equivalent of a bottle of wine. Instead, the caffeine in the products can cause one to appear alert when, in fact, one has a physiologically and functionally intoxicating blood alcohol level.
In 2006, the research team of Maria Lucia O. Souza-Formigoni at the Federal University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, tested subjects for a variety of subjective assessments and motor coordination tasks after a dose of alcohol (0.6 or 1.0 g/kg) with or without a Red Bull energy drink. Subjects had been previously given a meal of a Big Mac (a travesty for the IRB to let through given the amazing cuisine of the country).
The alcohol doses used allowed subjects to achieve peak blood alcohol level of about 0.04 and 0.10 g/dL in each treatment group. When data from the two alcohol groups were combined, those who had also had the energy drink reported less dry mouth, headache, dizziness and perception of impaired motor coordination. However, actual motor coordination (determined by the time it took to insert 25 pegs into a wooden board) and visual reaction time were equally impaired in the alcohol and alcohol plus energy drink group. Moreover, the energy drink had no effect on blood alcohol concentrations at up to 2.5 hours after the dose.
So, even if caffeinated energy drinks cause one to feel more alert while drinking alcoholic beverages, one’s blood alcohol levels can be deceptively high.
Whether states should disallow the sale of beverages that essentially mimic a practice that has been done in clubs for a decade is another issue.
I’m just blown away that one can of this stuff = one bottle of wine, caffeine or not.
Ferreira SE, de Mello MT, Pompéia S, & de Souza-Formigoni ML (2006). Effects of energy drink ingestion on alcohol intoxication. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 30 (4), 598-605 PMID: 16573577 DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2006.00070.x
Ferreri, Eric. Alcohol-caffeine mix raises state’s concern. Raleigh News & Observer, 13 November 2010.