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Caffeine can't curb effects of alcohol

While caffeine alone may spur alertness, adding caffeine to alcohol, like the popular Red Bull with vodka, does not enhance reaction time or performance on a driving test, according to a new study led by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. 

"There appears to be little or no protective benefit from the addition of caffeine to alcohol, with respect to the safe execution of activities that require sustained attention with rapid, accurate decisions," says the study which published in the February edition of the journal Addiction.

The results suggest the public needs more education regarding the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages (CABs), and that regulators should scrutinize energy drinks and CAB advertising as it relates to promoting safety-related expectancies. 

The study, led by Professor Jonathan Howland of BUSPH, comes amid increased government scrutiny of alcoholic energy drinks, like the recently banned Four Loko. 

Other countries like Canada and Sweden have issued warnings about mixing energy drinks with alcohol, and Denmark even has banned the sale of energy drinks. 

In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration expressed concerns over the lack of safety data on CABs, after survey results indicated the consumption of such beverages correlated with risky behavior among college students. 

The study claims that energy drinks mixed with alcohol have not direct influence to "enhance attention, endurance, performance, weight loss, and fun, while reducing performance decrements from fatigue from alcohol" as the advertisement says. 

For the new study, researchers randomly divided 129 participants, ages 21 to 30, into four groups: one group that consumed caffeinated beer; a second that consumed non-caffeinated beer; a third that consumed caffeinated non-alcoholic beer; and a fourth that consumed non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic beer.

Those receiving alcohol attained an average blood alcohol level of .12 grams percent, higher than the legal 0.8 per se for driving under the influence. Thirty minutes later, the participants were tested on a driving simulator and on a reaction time test or sustained attention. 

The results show that caffeine does not reduce the impairment effects of alcohol. The mix of caffeine and alcohol did not make significant difference on the driving test and on the test for sustained attention and reaction times, only a slight difference made. 

 "It is important that drinkers understand that adding caffeine to alcohol does not enhance safety," said Howland.

Stephen Lau and editing by Aimee Keenan-Greene