Muir Wood therapist, David Laing

The Harmful Effects of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

Combining alcohol with caffeine isn’t new, as anyone who has slurped down a cup of Irish coffee can attest. But there’s a new kind of drink being sold in some convenience stores, and it blends remarkably high amounts of caffeine with similarly U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 have tried these drinks, and those who do could face some very serious health consequences.

A Powerful Mixture

On the surface, alcohol and caffeine shouldn’t mix. One ingredient, alcohol, is a sedative that’s been associated with slowed breathing, reduced heart rate, and a feeling of deep relaxation. The other ingredient, caffeine, is a stimulant that’s been associated with feelings of nervousness and a sensation of intense focus. Putting the two together seems silly, as it might be reasonable to assume that the effects of one drug would cancel out the effects of the other. In reality, the two ingredients can come together in very dangerous ways.

Caffeine can’t make a drunk person sober, but it can serve to blunt the effects of alcohol. In a study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, those who had alcoholic drinks laced with caffeine felt less impaired than those who drank the same amount of alcohol with no caffeine. The drug just makes alcohol a little easier to drink. It might also make binge drinking more likely, as teens may have no cues to tell them that their use is reaching out-of-control levels.

Teens who binge on alcohol might stumble into dangerous situations. They might engage in sexual activities, for example, or they might be victims of assault. They might drive, and lose their lives or take the lives of others. They might also get into physical altercations, as alcohol might blunt their ability to plan and caffeine might make them feel jittery and powerful.

Other Additives

In addition to using caffeine, the makers of these drinks might also blend in enhancing ingredients such as:

  • Other stimulants
  • Sugar
  • Ginseng
  • Guarana

Researchers writing in the journal Pediatrics in Review suggest that the safety of these ingredients hasn’t been studied in young people, especially when they’re combined with caffeine. They could make the pop of caffeine much more potent, and that could make health effects like nervousness, high blood pressure, and rapid heartbeat all the more likely.

Teens who spend the day drinking coffee may also be more prone to experience the negative side effects associated with these drinks. The amount of caffeine included in these drinks isn’t listed on the label or on the packaging, so teens may have very little information about the substances they’re ingesting, and they may combine earlier dangerous drinks with these late additions.

Getting Better

Alcohol can be terribly addicting, and some people who drink large quantities of the substance find it difficult to curb their use. But caffeine can also be remarkably addicting, resulting in cravings and tremors when people attempt to stop their abuse. Teens who down caffeinated alcoholic beverages may develop complex addictions to both substances, and they may find it difficult to heal. We can help. At Muir Wood, we specialize in the treatment of adolescent males with addictions. Please download our admissions packet to find out more about our program, or just call us.