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Safety of alcoholic energy drinks questioned

BY PARKER SMITH | NOVEMBER 17, 2009 7:21 AM

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Popular energy drinks containing a spike of alcohol could soon be pulled from shelves pending a federal review of their safety.

But the ban only affects premixed drinks and would not affect those wanting to fuse the two — as in a Red Bull and vodka, a popular request at Iowa City bars.

The Food and Drug Administration issued letters late last week giving 27 beverage manufacturers who combine alcohol with caffeine 30 days to provide evidence ensuring their products are safe.

Under federal law, a substance added intentionally to food — such as caffeine to alcoholic beverages — is considered unsafe unless it has been approved by FDA regulation or is generally recognized as safe, according the FDA’s website.

The FDA has not approved the store-bought alcohol-caffeine mixtures, which were created to compete with the growing popularity of mixing energy drinks and liquor.

But if the premixed drinks are banned, Iowa City residents would still be able to purchase alcoholic energy-drink mixtures from a number of local bars.

Brittany Schultz, a bartender at Sam’s Pizza, 411 S. Gilbert St., said some nights a majority of the alcohol she serves contains energy drinks.

“That’s all [patrons] were drinking all night,” the UI junior said about a recent evening. “Tall Red Bull vodkas.”

UI senior Sam Manthei — sitting at the Sam’s Pizza bar on Monday — said a drink called a “rooster” is one of his personal favorites.

The drink is a tall Red Bull and vodka with a splash of cranberry juice, but he said the catch is having to drink them as fast as possible through a straw.

Angela Reams, the UI Student Health Service substance-abuse prevention coordinator, agreed the drinks can have a negative effect.

Combining alcohol with energy drinks can cause problems with the heart and nervous system because the two substances have opposite effects, she wrote in an e-mail.

“Mixing a stimulant, such as caffeine, with a depressant, like alcohol, can cause serious problems,” she wrote.

A 2007 study by researchers at Wake Forest University found that students who reported consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks had a significantly higher prevalence of alcohol-related consequences, including being injured or requiring medical treatment.

Consuming the mixture also increases one’s chance of being taken advantage of sexually, the study states.

Nearly one quarter of college drinkers consume alcohol with energy drinks, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The caffeine causes students to drink significantly more during a typical night, because of physiological effects such as the feeling that one’s level of intoxication is less than expected, according to the center.

Red Bull contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, but twice as much as a can of Coca-Cola, despite having about 40 percent less liquid per serving than the can of soda, according to a report by the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog.

Though the FDA is set to examine the risks associated with the premixed industry, some students said energizing their alcohol will still be an appealing option.

Manthei said he has no intention of giving up “roosters” anytime soon.

“They taste good, they keep you up, and they get you wasted,” he said.


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