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How can energy drinks lead to drunk driving?

Many University of Georgia students, like college students around the country, have come to rely on energy drinks to provide the caffeine they need to stay awake and alert through the night to cram for exams and finish papers. These highly-caffeinated drinks, if overused, can present some health dangers. However, combining them with alcohol, as many students do, can pose particularly serious risks.

Warnings by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010 have largely resulted in energy drinks containing alcohol being removed from the marketplace in the U.S. However, it's easy enough for students to combine alcohol and energy drinks on their own.

When people who have a large amount of caffeine in their system consume alcohol, they may not realize just how intoxicated they are. They become "wide-awake drunk." Instead of passing out (which also isn't healthy), they're more likely to stay up and keep drinking. When you combine the loss of inhibitions from alcohol with the high energy created by caffeine, you've got a recipe for risky behavior — most notably drunk driving.

A recently published study sought to determine the link between the consumption of energy drinks, both alone and together with alcohol, and drunk driving. Researchers asked 1,000 college students to self-report their consumption of these beverages and their incidents of drunk driving over a six-year period.

Interestingly, students who reported consuming energy drinks, both alone and along with alcohol, had a higher rate of drunk driving than those who didn't. Researchers hypothesized that this could be because energy drinks are marketed to as an "idealized notion of an exciting, active lifestyle with a proudly carefree and undaunted attitude of ‘living for the moment.'" That can lead to people engaging in risky behaviors without considering the consequences.

Many teens and young adults feel enormous pressure to get good grades, take on extracurricular activities and work to help pay for school and other expenses. It's not surprising that they're turning to energy drinks as seemingly safe substances to help them keep up with all of these demands.

However, just as parents should counsel their kids on the dangers of alcohol consumption, they should also warn them about the dangers of energy drinks, particularly when combined with alcohol. If your child is arrested for DUI, it could have a serious impact on his or her future.

Source: Ars Technica, "Non-alcoholic energy drinks that give you wings linked to drunk driving," Beth Mole, accessed Oct. 27, 2016