By Scott Prater
They look like energy drinks and often taste like them too.
Caffeinated alcoholic beverages have become all the rage lately. With labels featuring natural herbal leaves and modern graphics, bright, high-energy colors and super-sized containers, these drinks have been marketed to the younger generation.
Such deceptive packaging leads many to believe the drinks are simply energy boosters, but these products hide an alcohol content of nine percent or more, and at 20 to 24 ounces per container, can contain as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2006 study of the practice of mixing caffeine and alcohol, by scientist Sionaldo Eduardo Ferreira and his partners, concluded that while caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, it has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol by the liver, and thus, does not reduce breath alcohol concentrations or reduce the risk of alcohol-attributable harms.
“From a medical standpoint, alcoholic/caffeinated beverages pose a danger to the human body,” said Schriever Drug Demand Reduction Program Manager Eddie Roski. “The high levels of caffeine raise blood pressure and can lead to rapid heartbeat, but more importantly, by drinking caffeinated alcoholic beverages, individuals are so stimulated they don’t feel the effects of the alcohol as strongly, which can lead to heavier drinking and a greater risk for alcohol poisoning.”
On Oct. 18, 2009 two Airmen and a civilian friend paid the ultimate price after drinking these types of beverages and driving.
“They were consuming these drinks at a party while everyone there assumed they were consuming energy drinks,” said Staff Sergeant Jason Bamberg, 50th Space Wing ground safety manager, after reviewing the safety report released on the incident. “One of the Airmen was underage, but no one stopped them because the can looks so much like an energy drink. It turns out these guys had been drinking all day. They ended up driving at a high rate of speed and crashing. All three were ejected from their vehicle and killed.”
This incident highlighted the dangers of these types of drinks, and spurred Air Force leaders to begin an education campaign.
Sergeant Bamberg said younger Airmen are more knowledgeable about the drinks’ existence so it became important for the AF to educate supervisors and more mature wingmen about the products.
Drunk driving awareness isn’t the only issue.
Critics of CABs, according to Mr. Roski, contend that mixing large amounts of caffeine and alcohol produces a difficult situation for drinkers. Since caffeine’s effects wear off faster than alcohol’s, drinkers consume much more alcohol than they can tolerate, which can lead to blackouts.
As a result, an increasing number of states have begun banning the caffeine-boosted drinks outright, including Washington, where a group of college students were hospitalized recently after consuming them.
This past November, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it had sent a warning and a news release to four manufacturers of caffeine-boosted drinks.
“FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ which is the legal standard,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner, in the release. “To the contrary, there is evidence that the combinations of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.”
In light of this concern, some bases have banned the sale of CABs, including Hurlburt Field.
Sergeant Bamberg warned that, despite this action, people can still find these drinks at retail stores around the country.
“Supervisors need to be aware of this stuff,” he said. “They’re not just energy drinks. There’s a very high volume of alcohol.”
The Schriever Health and Wellness Center can provide more information on caffeinated alcoholic beverages and other topics, and is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call 567-4292 for more information.