June 8th, 2010
09:52 AM ET

Mixing energy drinks and alcohol may lead to riskier behavior

By Trisha Henry
CNN Medical Producer

A new study finds that college athletes are significantly more likely to engage in energy-binge drinking when consuming alcohol than non-athletes. Athletes who combined alcohol and energy drinks, 150 of the 401 surveyed, also consumed more than double the amount of alcohol when compared to athletes who consumed alcohol-only. The survey by Oklahoma State and University of Missouri researchers also found that when people drink "energy cocktails" there were significant increases in risk-taking. This was especially true in men.

Researchers found by mixing caffeine with alcohol the college athletes became more intoxicated and therefore engaged in riskier behavior, than with alcohol alone. In addition, the researchers noted, drinking a stimulant and a depressant at the same time can be dangerous because it sends mixed signals to the body and the body doesn't know how to respond. The researchers also found those who drink "energy cocktails" are more likely to be hurt or injured and more likely to ride with an intoxicated driver.

Besides increased overall alcohol consumption and risk-taking, the study also found links to health problems and negative consequences associated with the "energy cocktails". Researchers found the combination of caffeine with alcohol, along with the other substances influenced brain functioning. According to the study, overindulging in these cocktails could affect motivation, concentration, mood and can create or exacerbate mental problems.

With so many of these stimulants in the body, study author, Dr. Conrad Woolsey from Oklahoma State University says, "this can cause a sort of manic depressive state afterwards and over time can lead to anxiety disorders, especially in young people."

According to the National Institute of Health, the brain is still developing until the age of twenty-five. College athletes who expose themselves to these stimulants in increased amounts are putting themselves at a greater risk of depression and anxiety disorders in the future. Woolsey says the danger isn't specifically in the caffeine; it's in the combination of drinks with the other stimulants potentially being more dangerous because people haven't built up tolerances to them. Woolsey says many of these so called energy drinks contain unregulated herbal stimulants.

The energy drink market has ballooned from $200 million in sales in 2002 to $3.5 billion in 2006, according to figures included in the study.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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