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Mixing alcohol and caffeine

I don’t drink “energy drinks” or the new “caffeinated alcohol” drinks because they look hideous and I’m way too old for that crap, but apparently they have drawn the attention of the regulatory agencies for being potentially dangerous.

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission this month asked vendors to cease distributing the products and remove them from store shelves. The request followed Food and Drug Administration, Treasury Department and Federal Trade Commission warnings to companies that make the beverages that they’re unsafe and illegal.

“It’s great that public officials are moving to discourage these canned products, but the mixing of the drinks is still very prevalent in bars and clubs,” said Dr. John Higgins, a Houston cardiologist. “It’s a very risky combination.”

Higgins, a professor at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and the director of exercise physiology at the Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute, recently released results of a study on the dangers from excessive consumption of just energy beverages, let alone such beverages mixed with alcohol.

His study found the combination, popular among young people in recent years, can impair cognitive and heart function.

I couldn’t find a link to Dr. Higgins’ study, which was apparently published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, but I found a reference to it in this article, which is also about bad effects of energy drinks. I have a feeling this is going to become a much more high profile fight soon.

One thing from the Chron story that didn’t look right to me:

Medical experts say the mixture creates “wide-awake drunks,” people unaware how intoxicated they are and able to consume more drinks before passing out. Higgins said the mixture’s opposite effects — “like pushing on the brakes and accelerator at the same time” — are hard on the central nervous system.

The cans, which contain as much as 12 percent alcohol and 200 mg of caffeine, pack a much stronger punch than, say, a rum and Coke.

Consuming a single can of Four Loko, for instance, has been compared to drinking five cans of beer and a cup of coffee, enough to give a small woman a blood-alcohol level about twice the legal limit.

I’d like to know who is doing that comparing and on what basis they make that statement, because the alcohol content of your typical American lager is 4.5 to 4.7% by volume, though there’s a lot of variation. Something that is 12% alcohol (I presume they mean by volume and not by weight here; the “by weight” value is about 80% of the “by volume” value) is therefore two to three times as alcoholic as beer, not five times as much. Either I’m missing something, or someone is being loose with the numbers. Hair Balls has more.

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3 Comments

  1. Mike Pomeroy says:

    The reason they say it’s 5 times as much is because the cans are *all* 24 oz, rather than the typical 12 oz beer. If they were equal in volume, it would only be about 2-3 times as much, but drinking one entire 24 oz. can of Four Loko (or equivalent drink) is the same consuming as much alcohol as 4-5 12 oz. beers.

  2. Ah, that makes sense. Thanks!

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