New research set to be published by the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has found a link between the consumption of caffeinated energy drinks mixed with alcohol and casual -- and often risky -- sex among college-age adults. The study also found, however, that consumption of such alcoholic combinations is not a significant predictor of whether or not the boozing students used a condom during sex.
This part of the study, authored by Kathleen E. Miller, a senior research scientist at the University of Buffalo's RIA, found that co-eds who drank alcohol mixed with energy drinks such as Red Bull or Monster were more likely to report having a casual partner or being intoxicated during their last sexual encounter.
Miller was motivated in part by a desire to research the contributing factors of the prevalent "hook-up" culture observed on many college campuses, and partly by observing the jitters of a 16-year-old family friend who was "drinking buckets of Red Bull," Miller told The Huffington Post.
In fact, Miller added the questions about alcohol and caffeine at the last minute, as an afterthought to a questionnaire originally created to compare the affects of energy drinks on various populations. But as it happened, the alcohol results "turned out to be spectacularly significant in ways I didn't anticipate," she told HuffPost.
Previous research has linked energy drink consumption with other dangerous behaviors including driving while intoxicated, binge drinking and fighting. But this study primarily cited risks specific to drunken sex, including unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, rape and depression.
"Drinking energy drinks in general and alcohol and energy drinks combined is associated with a whole lot of risky behaviors," Miller said. "This doesn't mean [drinking these types of drinks] is causal, but it's a really good indicator."
Although the survey also does not link this type of drinking to sexual assault, Buzzfeed points out that a 2007 Wake Forest University School of Medicine study did indicate college students imbibing caffeine/alcohol combination beverages "were more than twice as likely to take advantage of someone else sexually, and almost twice as likely to be taken advantage of sexually."
Many will remember the controversy surrounding Four Loko beverages, a combination alcohol-caffeine drink that came in a 23 ounce container and was often nicknamed "Blackout in a Can." In 2010 the US Food and Drug Administration forced Four Loko manufacturer Phusion Projects, LLC to remove the caffeine; a controversial decision that led some consumer groups to protest what they saw as the growth of the "nanny state," the Christian Science Monitor reported.
The Center for Disease Control has even devoted a "fact sheet" to warning of the dangers of mixing the two substances.
And while "your average Red Bull and vodka is not as strong as [Four Loko]," Miller said, "It is still potentially risky because you are masking some of the affects of the alcohol. It's just a bad idea all around."
Energy drinks have "stronger priming effects than alcohol alone," the researcher elaborated in comments released by the University of Buffalo. "In other words, they increase the craving for another drink, so that you end up drinking more overall."
The more snarky individual may be asking, well, isn't this kind of obvious?
But Miller says this is not necessarily the case.
"Ideally, I'd like to see a public education campaign come out of this," she said. "Knowledge is power. Energy drinks have been here for awhile, but we still know every little about them. Every red bull can should have a large label that says, 'Don't mix this with alcohol, stupid!'"
Miller studied 648 participants (47.5 percent female) enrolled in intro-level courses at a large public university. They ranged in age from 18 to 40 but generally tended to belong to the lower half of the spectrum. The study will eventually be published in the print edition of the Journal of Caffeine Research but is already available online to subscribers of the journal as part of a larger three-year research project by Miller, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.