Australian first study on alcohol and energy drinks

Posted on: Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Researchers will venture inside licensed venues around Australia to observe the patterns and behaviour of people who consume alcoholic energy drinks as part of a new study into the drinks’ potentially harmful effects.

Eastern Health’s Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre will lead the study, which is the first to be conducted in Australia, with previous research focused on consumers in Europe and the United States.

The pilot study, funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), will explore alcohol and energy drink consumption patterns, and the risks and harms associated with them, as well as the challenges facing licensed venue operators and emergency services as they contend with a rise in the drinks’ popularity.

“We need more Australian evidence about the practices associated with this behaviour and associated harms, so we can respond to the needs of consumers, regulators and the community,” Ms Pennay said.

A recent review paper published in Australian Family Physician by Turning Point Research Fellow Amy Pennay, Turning Point Director Professor Dan Lubman and Dr Peter Miller from Deakin University, showed there is a small but growing body of research that mixing alcohol and energy drinks is associated with three levels of harm:

• Energy drinks can mask the feeling of alcohol intoxication leading to increased consumption and impaired perceptions of actual intoxication (which can lead to accidents, poorer decision making and risky behaviour).

• Alcohol and energy drinks are both diuretics, therefore dehydration is more likely (which can lead to diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headaches, muscle cramp, increased heart rate and a more severe hangover).

• Mixing stimulants with depressants can send mixed messages to the nervous system (which can lead to cardiovascular problems and disturbed sleep).

Ms Pennay said young people used energy drinks to achieve the same effects as illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine.

“However, we also found that energy drinks were often associated with worse side effects than illicit stimulants, including significant next-day harms such as heart palpitations and anxiety,” Ms Pennay said.

The pilot project is expected to be completed by August 2011.