A new study led by Dr. Amelia Arria, associate professor of behavioral and community health and director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, found that there is an increased risk of drunk driving among young people who consume non-alcoholic energy drinks.
The study used data from the College Life Study, a 10-year prospective longitudinal study of 1,253 college students who were originally recruited as incoming first-year freshmen. In year six, the students self-reported how often they drove while drunk, drank alcohol mixed with energy drinks, drank energy drinks without alcohol, and consumed alcohol or other caffeine during the past year. The most common age of students in the study was 23.
Nearly all participants reported that they drank alcohol at least once in the previous year, and more than half reported having at least one energy drink. Among those who consumed energy drinks, 71 percent drank alcohol mixed with energy drinks and 85 percent drank energy drinks alone. Over half said they drank energy drinks both alone and mixed with alcohol.
One in four college students who reported drinking alcohol in the past year admitted to driving drunk at least once. Drunk driving prevalence increased among all students who consumed energy drinks, from those who drank the beverage alone to those who mixed it with alcohol. Those students’ frequency of drunk driving was significantly correlated with how often they drank energy drinks — both alone and mixed with alcohol — and with their quantity and frequency of alcohol use.
Aside from the acute effects of caffeine, energy drink consumption is linked to many risk-taking behaviors among college students, including abuse of prescription drugs, risky sexual behavior, and not wearing a seatbelt, the researchers wrote. Of particular concern, they noted, are the consistent connections that have been observed between energy drink consumption and alcohol-related problems, including an increased risk for alcohol dependence, even after controlling for the level of alcohol consumption and other risk factors.
“Energy Drink Use Patterns Among Young Adults: Associations with Drunk Driving” is published in Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research.