12/06/2010 08:09 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Alcohol Energy Drinks: There's More You Should Know

Alcohol energy drinks are a combination of alcohol and an energizing soft drink with lots of caffeine, sugar and other stimulants (like guarana, taurine and ginseng). Sort of a toned down version of speed mixed with the disinhibiting effects of alcohol.

These drinks, often called Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages (CABs), have become exceptionally popular, to the detriment of too many youth, who are now appearing in Emergency Departments around this country and the world. According to the U.S. Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are about 25 brands of CABs; the leading two experienced a 67-fold sales increase from 2002 (when marketing started doing its job) until 2008.

Not only do these drinks have mega doses of caffeine (two to seven times that of a Coke or Pepsi), and other stimulant additives, the amount of alcohol can be twice or more than that of a bottle of beer; beer is 4 to 5 percent alcohol while the CABs may have up to 12 percent. Dehydration from the diuretic effects of caffeine and alcohol make the impact on the brain of both drugs even greater. The stimulants in the beverage can mask the effects of alcohol so the drinker does not feel as tired or woozy and can believe he or she is fine to drive. Judgment is significantly impaired and alcohol poisoning (overdose) or risky or aggressive sexual behaviors can result.

CAB drinkers are three times more likely to binge drink. Binge drinking (five or more drinks at a setting for a man and four or more for a woman -- usually within two hours) is associated with 40,000 deaths in this country and is especially prevalent among young people. Some colleges have banned CABs from their campuses. Alcohol abuse is the gateway to prescription drug abuse, the fastest growing form of drug abuse in the United States.

A public education campaign has begun about the dangers of CABs. Did you know what is in them or the health and safety problems they present? Are you watching out for your friends or children so that they don't drink and drive when loaded with a CAB? Or that one CAB can be the equivalent of several beers, and then some? Families and friends can deliver a message of concern and protection -- if you don't who will? Doctors, nurses and other health professionals who come in contact with youth should not be shy about asking questions and giving information; the white coat still carries quite a bit of authority. Colleges and universities can make CABs a primary health issue on their campuses.

The mounting use and ill effects of these drinks led the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse to issue two advisories (see links below) -- one for professionals and one for those imbibing themselves (or others with influence). These advisories offer important additional details about what can be done about the wave of CABs hitting the shores of communities everywhere.

The opinions expressed herein are solely my own as a psychiatrist and public health advocate.

Dr. Sederer receives no support from any pharmaceutical or device company.

Visit Dr. Sederer's website at - for questions you want answered, reviews and stories.