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Dangers of Mixing Caffeine & Alcohol

Caffeine is a stimulant that can mask some (but not all) of alcohol’s effects, making it difficult to know one’s limit and greatly increasing the risk of accidentally consuming dangerous amounts of alcohol.

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Caffeine and alcohol should not be mixed.  

Caffeine also does not “sober you up” if you are drunk. You should not drink caffeine in an effort to safely drive before the effects of alcohol have worn off. 

Alcohol’s Depressant Qualities

Alcohol is a depressant, affecting a person’s balance, memory, speech, and judgment. 

Despite some myths to the contrary, alcohol can also cause feelings of euphoria by increasing the amount of dopamine released by your brain. This euphoria effect lessens the more a person drinks. 

Bingeing alcohol can be dangerous, eventually affecting a person’s long-term memory, causing them to “black out,” where they may remain conscious (with poor judgment and motor skills) but forget events that occurred while drunk. 

It is also possible to overdose on alcohol, which can cause life-supporting functions to begin to fail, such as the automatic systems your body uses to breathe and pump your heart.

Health Effects of Mixing Caffeine & Alcohol

Caffeine is a stimulant, which can temporarily suppress the depressant effects of alcohol. This is a dangerous combination as it often causes people to drink more. Then, as the stimulant wears off, the person is “hit” with all the alcohol they’ve consumed. 

In some cases, this can cause a person to black out or even experience a dangerous alcohol overdose, suddenly experiencing the effects of much more alcohol than intended.

Long-Term Health Effects of Mixing

The excessive consumption of both alcohol and energy drinks can have multiple long-term health effects. 

Alcohol can damage a person’s organs, especially their liver, as well as increase their risk of developing certain cancers. It is also addictive. 

Despite alcohol’s legal status, it can be a devastating drug if abused. An alcohol addiction, or alcohol use disorder, is very difficult to manage without expert treatment.

Alone, sources of caffeine (such as energy drinks) aren’t as dangerous as alcohol, but they do carry their own negative health outcomes. They’re considered especially bad for children and teens. 

Younger people are known to experience heightened effects from caffeine. They are more likely to engage in risk-seeking behaviors, see adverse cardiovascular effects, experience mental health problems, and more when they combine alcohol with caffeine.

Combining alcohol and energy drinks (or any other source of caffeine) can be fatal. It is not a habit anyone should engage in. The FDA does not consider beverages that mix alcohol and caffeine safe.

What Happens in Your Body When You Mix Alcohol & Caffeine?

Alcohol is primarily a central nervous system depressant. As you drink alcohol and it enters the bloodstream, it slows down activity in your brain. This slowing effect is what causes most of its other effects. 

Alcohol can also affect your circulatory system, raising your blood pressure and heart rate. 

Caffeine is a stimulant, rousing the central nervous system. This can produce an energizing effect and make a person feel more awake, which is often why people choose to drink it. 

Caffeine is also a diuretic, getting rid of salt and water in the body by causing you to urinate more frequently.

Does Caffeine Sober You Up if You’re Drunk?

Broadly speaking, caffeine doesn’t cause a person to “sober up” and shouldn’t be used for this purpose. 

While it can counteract some of the effects of alcohol, it does not “reverse” someone’s drunkenness. Importantly, a person’s cognitive skills will still be impaired. 

To truly reverse the effects of alcohol, you simply need time to pass. Alcohol must be metabolized. This takes time and is done naturally by the body, assuming a person has healthy organs. 

As mentioned earlier, caffeine may mask some of the effects of alcohol, but this is temporary and may actually cause a person more harm, as it sometimes leads them to underestimate how drunk they are. A person should never use caffeinated drinks or powders of any kind to try and speed up how fast they can begin safely engaging in other activities that are unsafe while drunk, such as driving. 

It simply won’t work.

What About Energy Drinks With Alcohol?

Energy drinks are one of the biggest sources of caffeine among people mixing caffeinated drinks with alcohol. One of the most popular combinations is a vodka Red Bull.

Energy drinks often contain large amounts of caffeine, ranging from about 100 mg to 500 mg (which is the equivalent of 14 cans of cola). While the debate about the level of regulation these drinks should be under is debated, it is currently fairly low. The FDA offers voluntary guidelines, which many companies ignore. 

People who drink alcohol with energy drinks usually end up more intoxicated than if they had drank alcohol alone. This increases the likelihood of accidents and injuries. 

In addition to high caffeine content, these drinks can also be moderately high in calorie and sugar content. This can potentially cause other adverse health effects, unrelated to caffeine. 

Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages

Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages (CABs) were popularized in the 2000s but deemed broadly unsafe by the FDA in 2010. The FDA felt the products of seven of the major producers of these beverages could not be generally recognized as safe, with the producers responding by removing stimulants from their products. 

CABs are generally unavailable in the U.S. and should not be considered safe even if found somewhere. 

These drinks suppress the effect of their alcohol content, with their stimulant effect slowly wearing off over time and alcohol’s effect on the body becoming more pronounced. This makes it difficult for users to know how drunk they may be or the effect further drinking may have.

Don’t Risk It

There are many dangers to mixing caffeine and alcohol. It’s simply not worth the risk.

Don’t put your body in danger by combining the substances. Keep your caffeine and alcohol consumption separate, and keep your body safe.

Updated June 8, 2023
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