Energy drinks could have a ‘deadly’ effect

Growing issue: Sam Beetham, of Trading Standards Community Alcohol Network
Growing issue: Sam Beetham, of Trading Standards Community Alcohol Network

Teenages who mix booze with energy drinks could have a deadly health problems in years to come, it was claimed today.

Lancashire Trading Standards has launched an investigation into energy drinks bought on the county’s streets after an alarming survey showed nearly half of children who drink energy drinks admit mixing them with alcohol.

As an LEP series raising debate about the supply of booze to youngsters concludes, staff have revealed fears at the numbers of Lancashire teenagers drinking cans of caffeinated drinks, some of which contain the same as three cans of cola or a mug of coffee.

Alcohol workers say consuming booze and energy drinks together can heighten the effects of alcohol by making the youngsters feel more alert and less drunk, and it also masks the strong taste of alcohol.

In turn they may feel more confident, take more risks and potentially end up drinking too much or being injured in a fight or accident.

Combining caffeine with alcohol places the body under great stress.

One 17-year-old girl, currently being treated by Addaction, told the Evening Post she sometimes consumed up to three bottles of vodka a week, either mixed with energy drinks or cola.

Sam Beetham, of Trading Standards Community Alcohol Network, said a probe had been launched into the use of energy drinks amongst young people and their relation to alcohol and anti-social behaviour.

She said: “This is a worrying trend as combining these type of drinks with alcohol can result in young people getting more drunk, with a direct effect on increasing risk. This is because caffeine makes people feel more alert and less drunk and masks the level of intoxication.

“We would like parents and young people to be aware of the additional risks of consuming alcohol with these caffeinated drinks.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests there is a growing issue with the use of caffeine energy drinks by young people in Lancashire. Feedback from the Community Alcohol Network activity suggests young people denied easy access to alcohol are buying and consuming large amounts of energy drinks on their own or with alcohol, which has an impact on young people’s behaviour and health and on local communities.

Young people’s treatment service, Young Addaction, have also reported concerns.

Outreach worker Hannah Merlyn said: “ It’s not really seen as a drug but that’s what it is - it is basically a drug. The cans are made to look a hit like alcohol, we are only just starting to recognise the threat. They can have a similar effect to amphetamine drugs. It is an appetite suppressant which can make the effect of alcohol worse. It makes strong alcohol taste nice so potentially more is drunk,”

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is riskier than just drinking alcohol alone, according to experts concerned about a growing trend among young adults.

Use of caffeine can have a number of disturbing physical effects on some people, such as; restlessness, excitability, dizziness anxiety, irritability, increased breathing and heart rates, headaches and lack of concentration and dehydration.

Children and young people who consume energy drinks containing caffeine may suffer from sleep problems, bed-wetting and anxiety.

Experts say that as little as 350 milligrams of caffeine a day - equal to four energy drinks or four cups of medium to strong coffee - is enough to cause dependence.

In the Trading Standards Alcohol and Tobacco survey (2013) 3,392 young respondents were asked whether they drank high energy or caffeine drinks. Sixty three per cent, mostly boys, said they did.

The most popular brand of drinks were Monster and Red Bull.

Forty nine per cent - 1,146 children - said they mixed them with alcohol.

Sam added; “There are also growing concerns from retailers around selling these drinks to young people. Many shops have a large range of energy drinks with some retailing at just 39p for a large can. In some districts retailers have commented on the large amount of energy drinks sold in the mornings to school children, particularly young boys.

“Schools and teachers have also reported their concerns over young people consuming these drinks throughout the day. Some schools have banned these drinks from being brought onto the premises.

Fifty seven per cent of young people drank these drinks at least one or two days a week but around a fifth of 17-year-olds who responded said they drank them every day.

The effects vary from person to person.

The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) published a voluntary Code of Practice in April 2010 that recommends prominent labelling on energy drinks and states such drinks may not be promoted or marketed to persons aged under 16.

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “In my experience kids know that drinking vodka and red bull is the quickest way to get drunk. Because the stimulant increases the heart rate the effect with alcohol makes it more dangerous.”