Some time ago the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that caffeine is dangerous if used as an additive to alcoholic beverages, as it happens with many energy drinks available on the American market. A growing number of studies show that the addition of caffeine as a separate ingredient to alcoholic beverages is not to be considered safe: on the contrary, it represents a real risk to public health.
The consumption of energy drinks is widespread especially among the youth, and in the United States it represents a market of more than $ 5 billion. In Italy many of the most dangerous drinks are prohibited, but unfortunately they can be easily purchased over the Internet. Many of the energy drinks on the market contain a substantial amount of caffeine (up to 505 mg), considerably more than other caffeinated beverages do (one Coca-Cola contains 34-54 mg of caffeine and a cup of espresso 30-50 mg). A major challenge for healthcare professionals and scientists is to understand the effects of the many available energizing products, as the industry remains largely unregulated.
It should be remembered that the consumption of energy drinks containing no alcohol in combination with alcoholic beverages can give rise to risks, too. Although consumers may have the impression that caffeine counteracts the negative effects of alcohol, research has shown that people who combine energy drinks with alcohol tend to underestimate their real level of cognitive impairment. The intake of caffeine after drinking can reduce sleepiness but does not alleviate the effects of alcohol on the brain. Moreover the combined consumption of alcohol and energizing drinks can increase the overall quantity of drinks consumed, as the person stays awake for longer. Finally, caffeine is suspected to somehow favor alcohol dependence, but the possible mechanisms underlying this interaction are not clear and more studies are needed for a better understanding of this eventuality.
To promote informed consumer choices, it is necessary to provide consumers with warnings about the risks associated with caffeine consumption in adolescents and in pregnant women, as well as to provide explicit information about the potential risks associated with mixing energy drinks with alcohol.