I hate to admit this, but I read two recent articles about caffeine, energy drinks and alcohol in JAMA while having my second cup of coffee. And I become just a tad nervous…
Here are some of the physiologic facts that were presented in the first article: When we ingest caffeine, we feel the effect quickly because it’s well absorbed and achieves peak levels in 15 to 45 minutes. And as soon as it gets to the liver, it is metabolized into active stimulants. Alcohol and many medications can also prolong the 5 hour half-life of caffeine. The usual “dose” of caffeine in a cup of coffee is 100 mg and this can raise blood caffeine levels to 1 to 2 picograms per mL. According to Swedish scientists, a known lethal blood level of caffeine is 80 picograms per mL. (If you have read any of the books in ” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series, you’ll remember that coffee consumption is an important activity in that country!) Despite their calculations, it is not totally clear what the exact consumption of caffeine would have to be to achieve this lethal level, but there are some good estimates… probably between 3 to 10 g of caffeine over a brief period of time, depending of course, on a person’s size and metabolism. That means consuming at least 12 highly caffeinated energy drinks within a few hours. This is an unlikely scenario unless mixed with alcohol….it turns out that when combined with alcohol, caffeine becomes much more potent and can cause major morbidity and in some cases the mixture may be fatal!
The second article in JAMA discussed the risk posed by energy drinks mixed with alcohol. The authors presented an alarming statistic; that 31% of young teens and 34 to 55% of 18 to 24-year-olds regularly consume energy drinks whose primary active ingredient is caffeine. As many as 56% of college students have reported mixing energy drinks with alcohol in the past month. They favor ” ready made” cocktails served at bars such as Redbull and vodka as well as premixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages such as four Loco. If not available, they self mix combinations of beverages or drink alcohol and energy drinks separately but within the same drinking occasion. Since caffeine offsets the sedating effect of the alcohol component of the energy drinks, they are less likely to realize that they have become intoxicated. This reduced sense of intoxication induces more alcohol consumption which further impairs judgment and their cognitive function.
The article also points out that other studies have shown that although drivers may feel they’re less drunk if they imbibe alcohol with caffeine, their performance remains impaired. And drinkers who believe that caffeine can counteract impairment from alcohol actually show greater impairment!
So now that we’ve concluded that too much caffeine is bad and that mixing it with alcohol does not make it better (only more dangerous), I want to give you a list of the caffeine ingredients in what many of us consume:
- * Five hour energy… 270 mg
- * Amp, 16 ounce… 143 mg
- * BAWLS Guarana, 16 oz…100 mg
- * Full throttle, 16 ounce… 197
- * Monster, 16 ounce… 160 mg
- * NOS, 16 oz…260 mg
- * Redbull, 16 ounce… 152 mg
- * SPIKE shooter…286mg.
- * Coca-Cola, 20 ounce bottle… 58 mg
- * Dr. Pepper, 20 ounce bottle… 70 mg
- * Mountain Dew, 20 ounce bottle… 90 mg
- * Pepsi, 20 ounce bottle… 63 mg
- * Pepsi Max, 20 ounce bottle 115 mg
- * Black tea brewed, 8 ounces… 55 mg
- * Coffee brewed 16 ounces, 170 mg
- * Excedrin extra strength, two pills… 130 mg
- * NoDoz Maximum Strength, one pill 200 mg
- * Vivarin, one pill 200 mg
Bottom line: We can have our coffee (let’s keep it at less than 3 cups a day) and yes the occasional energy drink…but too much or trying to use caffeine to “overcome” the effects of alcohol can be harmful to your judgement and health.