Energy drinks, booze: a bad mix

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A new craze is sweeping the night club scene. What a great idea, mixing liquid courage with an energy drink to avoid the slowing effects of a pure depressant. 

Well, patrons haven't needed much convincing.

"About half the drinks I serve on a weekend night contain energy drinks," said Joey Ingalls, a 23-year-old bartender at a popular Colorado Springs night club. "Liquor or beer can make you drowsy, so many customers are ordering 'touchdowns' with Jägermeister and energy drink or our new 'classic combo' mixing vodka and energy drink."

These drinks have quickly risen in popularity, but many of their proponents do not fully understand how extremely unhealthy and dangerous they are. Even without compounding the effects of energy drinks by adding alcohol, an 18-year-old student from Ireland who drank three or more cans during a basketball tournament in 2000 collapsed and died.

In response, Ireland's Food Safety Promotion Board investigated and concluded that caffeine and other stimulant herbs like guarana increase blood pressure and dehydrate--a potentially deadly combination.

Dr. Maher Karam-Hage, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School, has researched the medical consequences of alcohol-energy drink mixtures.

He explains. "Since both alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating agents, mixing large doses causes severe 'double dehydration.' And the more dehydrated you are, the higher your blood alcohol content."

The real problem is that caffeine doesn't make a person less-drunk, it just makes him feel more awake.

"The end result is (these drinks) falsely lead the person to think he can drive or operate machinery," Dr. Karam-Hage said.

As is generally the case, what is popular can clash with what is responsible.