Alcohol and energy drinks: a pilot study exploring patterns of consumption, social contexts, benefits and harms
1 Research Fellow, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Eastern Health; Adjunct Lecturer, Eastern Health Clinical School, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
2 Director, Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre, Eastern Health; Professor, Addiction Studies and Services, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:369 doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-369Published: 23 July 2012
Young people around the world are increasingly combining alcohol with energy drinks (AEDs). However, as yet, limited research has been conducted examining this issue, particularly in terms of exploring patterns of consumption, social practices and the cultural contexts of AED consumption. We sought to understand how AEDs are used and socially constructed among young people.
We conducted 25 hours of observation in a variety of pubs, bars and nightclubs, as well as in-depth interviews with ten young people who regularly consumed AEDs during a session of alcohol use.
In this pilot study, participants were highly organised in their AED consumption practices and reported rarely altering this routine. Some young people consumed upwards of eight AEDs on a typical night, and others limited their use to between three and five AEDs to avoid unpleasant consequences, such as sleep disturbances, severe hangovers, heart palpitations and agitation. Wakefulness and increased energy were identified as the primary benefits of AEDs, with taste, reduced and increased intoxication, and sociability reported as additional benefits. Young AED users were brand sensitive and responded strongly to Red Bull imagery, as well as discounted AEDs. Finally, some young people reported substituting illicit stimulants with energy drinks.
Combining energy drinks with alcohol is now a normalised phenomenon and an integral and ingrained feature of the night-time economy. Despite this, many young people are unaware of recommended daily limits or related harms. While some young people consume AEDs to feel less drunk (consistent with motivations for combining alcohol with illicit stimulants), others report using AEDs to facilitate intoxication. While preliminary, our findings have relevance for potential policy and regulatory approaches, as well as directions for future research.