I’ve seen cocktails and products that combine alcohol with energy drinks. Are these mixes safe to drink?
The short answer: No.
To explain: Caffeinated alcohol drinks are not new – in fact, the FDA warned four companies in November 2010 that the caffeine added to their alcoholic beverages was an “unsafe food additive” – effectively serving to ban such products. As an NIH article explained, “caffeine appears to mask some of the sensory cues an individual might normally rely on to determine his/her level of intoxication.” In its 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, CDC further advised against the mix, cautioning “caffeine does not change blood alcohol content levels, and thus, does not reduce the risk of harms associated with drinking alcohol.”
So, while products containing significant amounts of caffeine and alcohol are not widely sold today, the practice of combining highly caffeinated beverages, “energy drinks,” with alcohol remains. Caffeine and alcohol are generally safe when consumed in moderation but mixing them together can lead to significant adverse consequences. Supporting the FDA and CDC conclusions, a study conducted in 2021 by Haun, et. al. found that when people drank alcohol mixed with a caffeinated beverage/energy drink, they tended to drink more than when drinking alcohol alone, regardless of the amount of sweetener in the caffeinated beverage.
Some drinkers mix the two thinking that the caffeine will help the body metabolize the alcohol more quickly and/or reduce the impairment effects of the alcohol, but a 2015 report by the Department of Health and Human Services showed this to be a false assumption. Rather, because the caffeine can mask the objective signs of alcohol poisoning, it can cause the person to drink more, leading to increased impairment. Additionally, chronic consumption can cause long-term health effects including liver and esophageal toxicity, or even death.
Given all this, the FDA and CDC cautions against caffeinated alcohol are wise for all to take into consideration next time you go to mix a cocktail. The risks of mixing alcohol with an energy drink are high, and ultimately, not worth the reward…even in moderation.