Monday, July 12, 2010

Energy drinks + Booze = Underage Drinking?

I've never understood the appeal of energy drinks. Don't misunderstand, I consume as much caffeine as every other American, which is about 3 cups of coffee per day. My buzz comes from coffee with nonfat milk, and occasionally a latte. I am not really a mocha-caramel-blendy-sugar-free-frappe-venti kind of person. I have always thought that energy drinks taste something like watered-down cough syrup, so they have never replaced coffee as my pick-me-up of choice.
Apparently, I am in the minority. Energy drinks are incredibly popular, especially among teens and young adults. Over one-third 12-to 24-year-olds say they consume energy drinks on a regular basis, which generates more than $3 billion in annual sales in the United States. Energy drinks typically have twice the caffeine as a a caffeinated cola beverage, but still not as much as a cup of coffee. The problem is that energy drinks are cold, and therefore easier to guzzle than a hot cup of Starbucks, so people tend to drink greater quantities faster.

In addition to Red Bull, Amp, and Monster, alcoholic energy drinks such as Sparks, Tilt, Four Loko, and Joose have surged in popularity over the last few years. According to a study in the medical journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, those who consume energy drinks and alcohol together often feel less drunk due to the large quantity of caffeine.

So what does this have to do with underage drinking? New York Senator Charles Schumer is urging the Federal Trade Commission to look at how these products are being marketed to young people. "He said 24-ounce cans of Four Loko and Joose are designed to appear hip with flashy colors and funky designs with appeal to younger consumers. They come in flavors such as grape and orange and can cost as little as $2.50 a can." Schumer states that these colorful drink containers may confuse parents, police officers, and even store employees, making it easier for underage drinkers to secure access to alcohol.

Despite the fact that it is illegal to sell alcohol to minors, teens are still getting their hands on the dangerous mix of caffeine and alcohol. In March, four teens from White Plains, New York landed in the hospital with alcohol poisoning after downing the fruity flavored Four Loko. Considering the beverage reportedly tastes like soda and has twice as much alcohol as beer, it does not seem far fetched that a young person might consume too much.

So other than underage drinking and the risk of alcohol poisoning, what is the real danger? Recently, alcohol and energy drink consumption was studied at ten North Carolina colleges. According to Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, associate professor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., college students who consume alcohol and energy drinks are far more likely to be injured or require medical treatment while drinking as opposed to peers who only consumed alcohol. Researchers also discovered that those who mixed energy drinks with alcohol were more likely to be victims or perpetrators of sexual assault.

Have you ever tried one of these alcoholic energy drinks? Are they easy for underage drinkers to score? What can adults do to keep teens safe?

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