Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Trendy Bytes: Alcoholic Energy Drinks

  Photo credit: erix! (Flickr)

Jaeger Bombs and Cherry Bombs...I imagine you may have heard of these popular mixed drinks. They're a fusion of energy drinks and alcoholic beverages that have been all the rave with young party goers for years.  But have you heard of Four Loko and Joose?  These are a couple of the up and coming pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks.  I only recently learned of them at the grocery store checkout when the checker and bagger were discussing their experiences with these caffeinated brews. Both admitted that the alcoholic energy drinks were quite "intoxicating" and could really "mess you up" in their words.  Hearing this was not breaking news to me. I knew people, especially young adults, often combine energy drinks with alcohol.  An estimated 54% of young energy drink users mix them with alcoholic beverages and a whopping 73% admit that they consume several energy drinks at a time with alcohol.  After learning about these drinks, I decided to take myself on a fact-finding mission to find out the truth about these caffeine-spiked cocktails.

Fact #1:  You might want to think of these drinks as beer on steroids. Serious.  Most of the caffeinated alcoholic beverages currently on the market weigh in at 6-12% alcohol. For comparison's sake, most beers average around 4-6% while wine averages about 12-15%.  Sounds fine except that the typical serving size for the caffeinated brews is about 24 ounces.  Depending on the alcohol content, that could be the equivalent of having 4 beers! 

Fact #2: These drinks are likely loaded with calories, mostly empty ones.  I say likely because nutrition information, such as calorie or sugar content, are not currently required according to alcohol labeling regulations.  However, I'm not surprised that one source indicates that one can of Four Loko contains up to 660 calories and 60 grams of sugar.  I can believe it given that energy drinks are a known source of significant amounts of added sugar while alcohol contributes 7 calories per gram. (For a frame of reference, fat provides 9 calories per gram while carbohydrate and protein provide 4 calories per gram.)

Fact #3: A typical serving may contain the caffeine equivalent of a Venti Starbucks Coffee, which is about 415 mg. As for my efforts to find out just how much caffeine these bad boys contain, we'll just say that I'm still waiting on an answer from the actual companies.  They often contain ingredients, such as caffeine, guarana (more caffeine), ginseng, and taurine, that are typically found in regular energy drinks.  So what affect does that amount of caffeine have on a drinker?  The jury is still out on that question, so  concern has been raised recently about the safety of consuming these additives, especially caffeine, with alcohol.

Fact #4:  Alcoholic energy drinks may leave one with more of a buzz than they bargained for.  These concoctions appeal to young party-goers who want to maintain the energy to party all night long and feel less drunk while doing so.  However, just because these drinkers feel less drunk does not mean they actually are less drunk.  Early research suggests that while those who combine alcohol with energy drinks believe they are less intoxicated than they are, they still exhibit deficiencies in performing certain physical and visual tasks. Also, caffeine appears to have no significant affect on blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for imbibers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Meaning that if a person drinks X number of drinks, their BAC will still increase accordingly.  Some worry that if  consumers of caffeinated cocktails perceive themselves as being less intoxicated than they actually are then they may be at greater risk of alcohol-related health problems, including alcohol poisoning.  In fact one study found that drinkers who sipped on a duo of alcohol and energy drinks were not only more intoxicated when leaving a bar, but they were also far more likely to intend on driving afterwards compared to those who consumed alcohol alone.  Scary!

Don't be surprised if you start hearing more about these commerically-prepared alcoholic energy beverages as the controversy appears to be picking up some steam since some government officials are looking for more regulation in this area.  What do you think?  Do we need more regulation? More education? Or are these drinks no worse than say a rum and Coke or an Irish coffee?


Related Posts with Thumbnails