The trend of mixing alcohol and caffeine became increasingly popular over the past few years. Restaurants and bars offer many options to let their customers combine alcohol and caffeine in different ways. Often, the drink is mainly alcohol with an energy drink added to it. Other times, the drink is mainly hard liquor with a shot of espresso or a cup of coffee with a shot of alcohol added to it. In 2017, almost one-third of young adults reported mixing alcohol with energy drinks in the previous year. Unfortunately, there is a downside to mixing alcohol and caffeine. In particular, people who mix alcohol and energy drinks are up to six times as likely to binge drink as those who do not and are at much higher risk of problems related to alcohol use. Therefore, mixing alcohol and caffeine can be much more dangerous than it seems.
Is Caffeine Dangerous?
When used on its own, the risks of caffeine occur mainly when it is consumed in excess. For example, caffeine may contribute to migraines and high blood pressure in some people as well as increasing the risk of developing anxiety and insomnia.
When you consume caffeine, it stimulates your central nervous system and brain, so you feel more awake. After consumption, the caffeine goes from your bloodstream to your liver. Your liver then breaks the caffeine down.
Caffeine can block the effect of brain chemical adenosine, which is a chemical that makes you feel tired. Blocking this chemical is how caffeine increases alertness. Caffeine can also boost levels of adrenaline and boost brain activity.
However, when you mix caffeine and alcohol, there can be some problems.
Side Effects of Mixing Alcohol and Caffeine
It’s recommended that you don’t mix alcohol and caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration banned prepackaged combinations of alcohol and caffeine in 2010. They took this action due to safety concerns after a spike in hospital visits linked to the combination of drinks.
The reason the alcohol and caffeine combination can be harmful is that caffeine can hide the depressant effects of alcohol. Alcohol is a sedative that slows down the central nervous system and brain processes. This effect is why people who drink may feel calmer or more relaxed. Caffeine, conversely, is a stimulant, and high doses can cause side effects like anxiety and nervousness.
Caffeine may make you feel more alert than you would feel otherwise when drinking, yet you might not realize just how impaired you are. When you mix alcohol and caffeine, it also can keep you alert enough to drink for long periods. If you keep drinking, your blood alcohol levels can become dangerously high. Studies showed that by combining alcohol and caffeine you are at higher risk for experiencing multiple side effects like:
- Having unwanted sex
- Having unprotected sex
- Driving drunk or being a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver
It’s best to avoid excessive alcohol consumption in general. However, it’s particularly important to do so when mixing in caffeine. Never operate a vehicle when intoxicated and never get into a vehicle about to be driven by an intoxicated individual.
Does Caffeine Help Sober You Up?
Contrary to popular belief, caffeine cannot help you sober up. The only way to get sober after drinking is to wait until your liver breaks down and gets rid of the alcohol in your bloodstream. Studies showed that caffeine has no impact on this process. Therefore, drinking caffeine will not help you sober up.
However, if you have caffeine after drinking, you may feel less drunk than you are. Doctors have found that if you have caffeine, you feel like you are sober, even if your blood alcohol levels show that you are very drunk. Doctors believe this effect may lead to an even more dangerous situation, where due to caffeine you may feel as if you are sober enough to drive even though in reality you are still drunk and just do not realize it.
Caffeine makes you feel sober are because it blocks chemicals in your brain that normally tell your brain that you are drunk. Therefore, although you are drunk, the caffeine is simply making your brain unaware of it. Combining caffeine and alcohol helps to release another brain chemical called dopamine, which works on the reward system in your brain and may make you keep drinking, getting even drunker.
Key Points: Alcohol and Caffeine
Important facts to remember about alcohol and caffeine include:
- It is not recommended to mix alcohol and caffeine
- If you mix alcohol and caffeine, you are at higher risk of issues such as unprotected sex and drunk driving
- Having caffeine will not help you sober up faster if you are drunk. However, you may feel soberer than you are because caffeine hides the effects of alcohol that make you feel drunk
If you live with a substance use disorder, help is available. The Recovery Village can help put you on the path to a healthier, sober life Contact The Recovery Village today to speak to a representative about how professional addiction treatment can address addiction and mental health disorders. Begin your healthier future today.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Caffeine.” October 23, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019. O’Brien MC, Arria AM, et al. “Caffeine, Alcohol, and Youth: A Toxic Mix.” Journal of Caffeine Research, March 2011. Accessed April 18, 2019. Ferre S, O’Brien MC. “Alcohol and Caffeine: The Perfect Storm.” Journal of Caffeine Research, September 2011. Accessed April 18, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Alcohol and Caffeine.” October 23, 2018. Accessed April 18, 2019.
O’Brien MC, Arria AM, et al. “Caffeine, Alcohol, and Youth: A Toxic Mix.” Journal of Caffeine Research, March 2011. Accessed April 18, 2019.
Ferre S, O’Brien MC. “Alcohol and Caffeine: The Perfect Storm.” Journal of Caffeine Research, September 2011. Accessed April 18, 2019.