The growing trend of mixing alcohol with energy drinks is commonly used by college students who consume them to avoid becoming sleepy while bar-hopping.
Over recent years, energy drinks have become a widespread phenomenon creating a drink for personality types. The hip-hop industry has expanded to include energy drinks from rappers such as Nelly’s “Pimp Juice” and Lil’ Jon’s “Crunk!!.”
The contents of energy drinks, however, are loaded with sugar, and are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Energy drinks are sugar sweetened beverages with ingredients such as vitamins, amino acids, caffeine, guarana, carnitine, ginseng and others,” said Annette Besnilian, food, dietetics, and nutrition professor at CSUN. “Consumers must be aware that these drinks are not regulated by FDA. They are often high in caffeine and may still contain the dangerous banned stimulant ephedrine. Another danger with alcohol and these drinks is that the consumer may not know what substances are in the drink and that substance may interact with alcohol.”
Alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics, which means these stimulants increase urine flow, causing the human body to become dehydrated if water is not consumed, Besnilian said.
Most consumers are unaware of these side effects. The growing popularity of energy drinks, however, stimulate supply and demand at most restaurants and bars.
“The most popular energy drink, bar none, is Red Bull,” said Christian Zuber, a bartender at Red Rock bar on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. “I usually go through a case of Red Bull a night at my bar, which is one of three under the same roof. That means around 50 drinks with Red Bull in them and over 150 in the entire restaurant.”
Juan Flores-Garcia is a senior kinesiology student at CSUN who enjoys drinking Red Bull with Vodka. He said he does not get drunk with the combination in replace of drinking beer.
“I wasn’t feeling drunk nor tired? just sociable because you’re more hyper. No hangover the next day,” he said.
For Zuber, selling the combination of alcohol and energy drinks to party-goers is a matter of cost and effect.
“The end game in energy drinks is marketing and branding, and Red Bull was there first and has stayed on top of their game, so the market is theirs for now,” Zuber said. “It’s not cheap either, a can of Red Bull costs $5, or as much as a beer or any ‘well drink’ (cheap vodka, gin, rum etc.) and people pay with no reservation. It must provide the desired effect.”
At Red Rock, Absolut and tonic is $7 and Absolut and Red Bull is $9.50. Inexpensive vodka is $5 with tonic and $7.50 with Red Bull.
“Some people use alcohol to help them relax. Usually the impression is that alcohol is a stimulant,” Besnilian said. “The effect is usually temporary since alcohol can give the illusion that the inhibitory nerves are sedated. Ultimately alcohol acts as a depressant and sedates all the nerve cells. It depresses the brain’s activity and slows the body down.”
Morgan Underwood is a CSUN senior business student who enjoys combining alcohol and energy drinks, specifically Red Bull and Skyy vodka or Monster and Jagermeister.
“If you’re tired and you just want to party, it’s a good way to start the night,” Underwood said. “Most of the time I’ll have a couple and then switch to something else. There’s a lot of sugar in them so the more you have the more hung over you’ll be.”
While Underwood enjoys the sudden boost she gets when she consumes energy drinks, some experts believe these drinks act as a placebo that evokes the feeling one wishes to experience.
Dr. Terri Lisagor, food, dietetics and food science professor at CSUN, does not believe there is any value in energy drinks, except for the people who sell them.
“Energy drinks stimulate with a caffeine base, and do nothing for changing metabolism. Any effect that is claimed by users would be based on the placebo effect,” she said. “In other words, there is no scientific evidence for supporting that claim… If the person believes it works, then in their mind, it does. Great marketing, appropriate target market (students), and they’ve got a profitable business – at someone else’s expense.”