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Energy drinks: Gateways to alcohol abuse?

November 17, 2010|Rosie Mestel, Los Angeles Times
  • A study links energy drink use to heavier alcohol use
A study links energy drink use to heavier alcohol use (Lawrence K. Ho )

With news that the FDA has sent warning letters to four companies that make drinks combining caffeine and alcohol, including the infamous Four Loko, a study about alcohol-free energy drinks just published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research came out at just the right time to get oodles of attention.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University, looked at drinking habits of more than 1,000 fourth-year college students gleaned from face-to-face interviews and reported that:

--51.3% of those who responded could be classified as "low frequency" users of energy drinks (drinking them on fewer than 52 days in the prior year);

--10.1% could be classified as "high frequency" users (drinking them on 52 or more days in the prior year).

The paper's main point: Those who could be classified as high frequency users also drank alcohol more often than low frequency users (142 days compared with 103 days) and in greater quantities (more than six drinks, on average, per "typical drinking day" compared with nearly five). Which seems like rather a lot of alcohol either way.

The scientists said they controlled for various factors, including being a member of a fraternity or sorority. They conclude: "Weekly or daily energy drink consumption is strongly associated with alcohol dependence." Which is not at all the same as saying one of them leads to the other. (We drank coffee up the wazoo in my house growing up, and we also went out to the pub. I seriously don't think the coffee led me to the pub, even though this was in England at a time when everyone drank instant coffee and one might be tempted to turn to any other drink than that.)

The authors do say that there's a relationship here that bears studying, and that college students who are especially fond of energy drinks could be a good group on which to focus alcohol-prevention efforts.

Here's the study abstract. And if you go there, you'll see a list of similar studies on the topic on the right that also examine students and their energy drink habits. And here's an article on the study in Time.

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