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Why do non-alcoholic energy drinks lead to more drunk driving?

Energy drinks have become ubiquitous on college campuses — not just to help students stay up all night to study or finish papers, but to help decrease the sedative effects of alcohol. Theoretically, at least, the more wide awake you are, the more alcohol you can consume.

Needless to say, the latter can be a recipe for disaster. People who don't feel the significant amount of alcohol they've consumed are more likely to engage in risky behavior like drunk driving.

A recent study of 1,000 college students (550 women and 450 men) looked at the relationship between consuming energy drinks (with or without alcohol) and drunk driving. They controlled for risk factors to better isolate the link between the two. The participants were interviewed annually over six years. They self-reported their energy drink consumption, alcohol consumption and instances in which they drove drunk.

Almost a third of the people studied reported that they sometimes consumed energy drinks with alcohol, but other times did not, depending on the situation. Nine percent said they always drank energy drinks with alcohol, while 16 percent said they never did.

Interestingly, while it was expected that those who reported consuming energy drinks and alcohol would report more instances of drunk driving, researchers also found a link between students who didn't consume energy drinks and alcohol together and self-reported instances of driving under the influence of alcohol. That, unlike the first finding, had not been noted in previous research.

Researchers speculated that many of the same marketing strategies used by alcohol manufacturers are also used by makers of energy drinks. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has essentially banned energy drinks containing alcohol, it's certainly easy enough to spike your Red Bull with some vodka. Many liquor stores sell energy drinks right alongside alcohol, making the pairing of the two extra convenient.

As noted, the danger of mixing energy drinks and alcohol is that you have the energy to do things (like drive) that your brain isn't in shape for. The diminished judgment and fear that alcohol gives us coupled with increased stamina too often prompts people to get behind the wheel when they shouldn't. If you're caught driving under the influence, it's essential to take the matter seriously. A DUI conviction can impact your education and your future.

Source: Claims Journal, "Energy Drinks, With or Without Alcohol, Contribute to Drunk Driving," Sep. 28, 2016

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