Multiple recent studies have strongly suggested that while driving under the influence of alcohol is dangerous in itself, taking alcohol in conjunction with certain other drugs can make the effects of alcohol even more pronounced. Consuming marijuana in combination with alcohol is one such combination; there is also another drug combination that can be at least as dangerous in its degrading effects on driving ability, and that is blending alcohol with caffeine, particularly in the form of so-called “energy drinks.”
Several studies have focused on combining alcohol and caffeinated energy drinks into a “cocktail,” particularly among younger drivers, whose purpose in doing so can be to promote a sense of not being as affected by the alcohol as is actually the case. The findings of these studies includes several troubling observations, including:
- Those who take energy drinks and alcohol together are not only likely to become more intoxicated than they would by drinking alcohol alone, but are also twice as likely to become intoxicated as those who do not mix the two.
- Combining alcohol and caffeine can lead to a desire to drink more alcohol than would be the case if a person is drinking alcohol alone; this, in turn, can lead to over-intoxication and even alcohol poisoning.
- The alcohol and energy drink combination can lead to alcohol abuse disorders at a significantly higher rate – up to 400% higher – than is otherwise the case with those who consume alcohol without energy drinks. What is more, taking alcohol and caffeine together may increase alcohol tolerance, which in turn can foster even greater amounts of alcohol consumption.
- Although those who combine alcohol with energy drinks can be less likely to believe that they have been impaired in their driving ability, this is a false impression: the negative effects of alcohol on motor skills and reaction times is in fact undiminished.
- Caffeine may worsen the effect of alcohol on judgment. People who take them together are more likely to drink and drive than those who drink alcohol by itself, and are more likely to choose to ride with another driver who is intoxicated.
It should be noted that the majority of the studies described above involved younger subjects (adolescents through college students), and also concentrated on the use of caffeine in energy drinks. But the general effects of the caffeine-alcohol mix should not be confined to just the younger crowd, nor to energy drinks alone (although the concentrated dose of caffeine in energy drinks may make the problem worse). Taking caffeine with alcohol can be just as dangerous as alcohol mixed with controlled substances, and the more ready availability of caffeine can make it a more serious potential problem.
The takeaway from these studies, as well as those which have considered the question of the effects of alcohol mixed with marijuana, is straightforward: the sound advice not to drink and drive is even more imperative when it comes to alcohol and drug combinations.