A team of researchers at Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center recently found that teenagers between 15 to 17 years old who ever consumed alcohol mixed with energy drinks are four times more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder than teens who have never mixed the two substances.
Led by James D. Sargent, MD, and first author Jennifer A. Emond, MSc, PhD, the Dartmouth group published their findings “Energy Drink Consumption and the Risk of Alcohol Use Disorder among a National Sample of Adolescents and Young Adults” in The Journal of Pediatrics. Sargent is Professor of Community & Family Medicine at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and Professor of The Dartmouth Institute. Dr. Emond works as Instructor in Community & Family Medicine at Geisel.
According to a news release, Sargent’s team studied a sample of 3,342 individuals across the nation between 15 to 23 years of age. Investigators used the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) system to measure and classify the consumption of study participants. The AUDIT is a ten-question test created by the World Health Organization (WHO) to determine the relative harmfulness of a person’s drinking. The study results uncovered that 9.7 percent of adolescents from 15 to 17 years old had consumed alcohol mixed with an energy drink. Further analysis revealed that this specific group had a greater chance of binge drinking and to later develop alcohol use disorders.
“Although our results were infrequent—just over 9 percent were mixing alcohol with energy drinks— parents should be wary of energy drinks and the increasing trend among adolescents to mix them with alcohol,” said Emond in an interview with CADCA. “If the numbers we found are increasing, parents should be wary of the association between consuming alcohol with energy drinks during adolescence and developing an alcohol use disorder during later adolescence or adulthood.”
Past research has documented the link between consuming alcohol in combination with energy drinks and higher instances of negative outcomes while drinking, such as binge drinking. Despite the wealth of information on this specific subject, most studies were conducted using undergraduate college students, rather than adolescents.
“Abusive alcohol use among adolescents is a dangerous behavior that can lead to injury, chronic alcohol use and abuse, and even death,” Emond stated in press release. “Identifying those most at risk for alcohol use is critical. Given that this is a sensitive issue, it’s possible that clinicians, parents, and educators might open dialogues about alcohol use with adolescents by starting the discussion on the topic of energy drinks.”
To widen the scope of their search, the Dartmouth researchers will focus future investigations on how the marketing of energy drinks influences adolescent consumers and their perception of appropriate use, including how acceptable it is to mix energy drinks with alcohol.