Why Energy Drinks and Alcohol Are a Dangerous Mix

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : July 09,
| 4 Sources

Energy drinks and alcohol

While energy drinks and alcohol are sometimes mixed together, with the former used as mixers for alcoholic drinks.
Energy drinks are beverages that normally include high levels of caffeine as well as other ingredients such as taurine, and caffeine-containing herbs, like guarana.

When combined, ingredients found in energy drinks and alcohol create a volatile and unhealthy mixture that adversely affects the central nervous system (CNS). Energy drinks contain large amounts of the stimulant caffeine, along with taurine, guarana and ginseng.

Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant. Rather than canceling each other out, as it would seem logical, these two substances generate chaotic chemical imbalances that, in effect, abuse and possibly cause irreparable harm to the CNS, circulatory and endocrine system.

Other health concerns from mixing energy drinks and alcohol also include adolescent brain damage, increased emergency department visits, and more hospitalizations.

Caffeine's effects on the human body include:

  • Blocking adenosine receptors in the brain--adenosine has a natural, calming effect on the CNS
  • Stimulates adrenal glands and adrenaline secretion
  • Pupil dilation, increased heart rate, contraction of muscles
  • Extra glucose is released into the body
  • Increases dopamine levels--dopamine is responsible for activating the part of the brain dealing with pleasure and reward
  • May cause irritability, restlessness and headaches
  • Elevates blood pressure
  • Acts as a diuretic
  • May likewise be associated with sleep problems, anxiety, dehydration, and digestive problems.

Conversely, the effects of alcohol on the human body include:

  • Impairment of memory--alcohol inhibits transfer and reinforcement of data inserted into long-term memory
  • Interferes with REM sleep--reason for still feeling tired upon awakening from an alcohol-induced sleep
  • Depresses motor coordination and impulse control
  • Decreases pulse rate, respiration and blood pressure
  • Inhibits higher activity in the cerebral cortex - allows the limbic system to take over, which controls only basic instincts

According to an article published on Scientific American's website on November 9, 2010:

"alcohol works in part potentiating the GABAergic neurotransmitter system. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When the neurons in the brain release GABA, it acts to slow down or inhibit other neural processes. This can reduce anxiety, increase relaxation while sedating a person. With higher levels of alcohol occurring as a result of the combination of energy drinks and alcohol, problems can arise as important neural and other bodily systems become overinhibited and shut down".

Energy Drinks and Alcohol
Stimulants Increase Alcohol Consumption

As a result of caffeine in energy drinks suppressing the sedation caused by alcohol, individuals who consume energy drinks while also drinking alcohol are generally able to drink more alcohol without experiencing the intensely anesthetizing effects produced by alcohol alone. Thus, they might consume more alcohol and get more impaired than they realize, adding to the risks of alcohol-related harms.

In addition, research suggests that intake of energy drinks and alcohol produces excess dopamine secretion, which encourages the person to drink even more of both substances.

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Alcohol Poisoning

Energy drinks, as well as other stimulants, will cause a person who is drinking alcohol to think they are not impaired. According to dietitian Theresa Osteen who works in the U.S. Army Health Clinic Preventative Services and writes for the Army's official website:

"no matter how alert someone may feel, the alcohol in the energy drink is raising the blood alcohol concentration in the body, just as if they were having an alcoholic drink".

In addition, the sedating effects of alcohol remain in the body once the stimulating effects of energy drinks diminish, potentially causing alcohol poisoning if too much alcohol was consumed. Alcohol-induced sickness symptoms include:

  • Vomiting during sleep
  • Respiratory depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Severe gastrointestinal issues
  • Possible cardiovascular failure

Moderate to excessive consumption of energy drinks and alcohol may result in a trip to the emergency room or even an extended stay in the hospital.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Habitual users of energy drinks who attempt to give up, will find they suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and irritability lasting for about a week.

However, someone who is a heavy or dependent alcohol drinker will suffer more disturbing symptoms than those involved with caffeine withdrawal.

If you think you might be dependent on alcohol, then it is essential you consult a medical professional prior to giving up alcohol. Withdrawal from alcohol can be fatal.

If you need help overcoming an energy drink and alcohol addiction, then we can provide a free consultation and drinking assessment to help you decide what is the best course of action to take regarding your drinking.

If you found this page helpful, then the following may be of interest to you:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Energy Drinks. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/energy-drinks

NCBI. Energy Drinks Mixed with Alcohol: What are the Risks?. October 1, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4190582/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol and Caffeine. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/caffeine-and-alcohol.htm

Time Magazine. Why You Might Not Want To Mix Alcohol and Energy Drinks. January 22, 2015. https://time.com/3677044/alcohol-energy-drinks/

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