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Caffeine and booze a risky mix

Mixing energy drinks and alcohol boosts dangerous behaviour, says UVic researcher

A researcher at the University of Victoria is calling out the dangers of consuming energy drinks and alcohol, a widespread practice that poses serious risks to health and public safety, officials say.

Kristina Brache, a graduate student in the department of psychology with the Centre for Addictions Research, found that out of 465 university students, those who combined caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol, or consumed premixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages, were more likely than those who drank alcohol alone to engage in risky behaviour, including driving intoxicated or getting in a vehicle with a drunk driver.

Brache, who is the first to publish research of this kind in Canada, wasn’t surprised by the outcome of the study, given similar findings south of the border.

“What is important is that even after accounting for intrinsic risk-taking, we’re still finding there’s some difference in this group that combines alcohol and energy drinks,” she said.

Reported reasons for combining the substances included a desire to eliminate drowsiness and to stay awake longer.

“(Drinkers) may actually not be able to judge how intoxicated they are … given that some of the depressant effects have been attenuated,” Brache said, noting lab studies have documented a reported sense of feeling less intoxicated when people consume both substances at the same time.

Earlier in the year, Brache, in seeking support for stronger restrictions around the marketing of energy drinks and alcohol consumption, presented her data to the Capital Regional District’s traffic safety commission.

Alan Perry, acting chair of the commission, called the talk “eye-opening” and “dismaying.”

It may be a while before the commission, though interested in mitigating the risks to public safety, launches into action that could possibly include a public education component, he said.

“The energy drink industry is a highly profitable industry, a multi-billion-dollar a year industry,” Perry said. “It appears that sector is investing a lot of time and money in trying to ensure that their profits are not eroded.”

Once the commission has mulled over Brache’s findings, they will likely put forward recommendations to the Liquor Distribution Branch to restrict licensed establishments from marketing energy drinks and alcohol together.

“We’re struggling with this because we sense it has the potential to really have a negative impact on both health and public safety, but we’re up against a marketing juggernaut,” Perry noted.

Concern over energy drink consumption is too new and reliable statistics relating deaths to caffeinated alcohol consumption don’t yet exist, said coroner Barbara McLintock of the B.C. Coroners Service.

“The fact is, there are these risks being posed,” McLintock said. “It’s a new risk and a risk that people … all need to be looking at.”

Brache is currently analyzing Canada-wide data on alcohol and energy drink consumption and its relationship to drinking and driving and alcohol abuse and addiction.

Did you know?

-Sales of premixed alcoholic energy drinks in Canada has increased by 296 per cent between 2005 and 2010.

-Young adults consume the drinks at a level four times higher than the general public, according to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse.

nnorth@saanichnews.com

 

 

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