The Vodka Red Bull was a staple of the modern British drinker for a good decade or so. The delightful mix of Smirnoff and fluorescent Red Bull (other brands are available) provided people with two of the things they thought they needed on a night out: Alcohol and Energy. We’d spend many a night in our youth downing back the sugary concoction at £1 a glass and partied on through the night into the early hours of next week. It will regularly be asked for in any a bar. It’s the Sambuca of mixed drinks, and its popularity is only ever preceded by the ever present “Jaeger-bomb”.
BUT (Sir Mixalot’s ears just pricked up because that is indeed a big but), is the combination of alcohol and horrifically over-indulgent energy drinks ever a safe mix? Is it biologically safe to mix a large amount of alcohol with a large amount of caffeine? The two on their own aren’t exactly safe I know – alcohol was directly responsible for over 8,000 deaths in the UK in 2014, with it being a contributing factor to over 20,000 deaths in the same year whilst, apparently, the number of deaths that have been caused as a direct consequence of energy drinks is still under the 100 mark for the past ten years.
Why then am I even asking this question? Surely the question shouldn’t be “Should we stop serving Vodka Red Bulls?” but, “Should we stop serving alcohol?” Well, no, that shouldn’t be the question. Alcohol in moderation can be enjoyed and can be safe, after all as Stephen Fry once delicately put it:”too much of anything is bad for you, that’s what too much means, you blithering twat”. – note, this doesn’t explicitly mean that all things are safe in moderation e.g. the threshold for bleach is zero bleach. Don’t drink bleach, even if it’s mixed with an energy drink.
So then, under the pretence that some things can be safe in moderation, surely having a glass or two of questionably delicious vodka and green slime should be fine, after all: cola has caffeine in it as well, and there’s no questions being asked of that.
The issue lies within the amount of caffeine in energy drinks. There’s been a few studies on the dangers of alcohol being mixed with energy drinks. The most predominant finding is that the excessive amounts of caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol leading you to believe you can drink more, conversely caffeine does not affect the rate in which your liver breaks down alcohol. This means that whilst you think you’re not as drunk as your peers who are chugging down beers (rhyming is fun) because you’re all hyped up on sugar and shit, you’re actually giving your liver an excessively larger amount of alcohol to process.
There’s even been research conducted in the good old United States searching for a link between a greater risk in hazardous drinking and behaviour where caffeine is mixed with alcohol. They found that when energy drinks and alcohol are brought together there is a greater association with binge drinking, alcohol dependence and “drinking to cope”.
In retaliation to my “cola has caffeine in it as well” comment, in a 330ml serving of Coke there is apparently only 32mg of caffeine (that’s what their website states and they wouldn’t lie to us…would they?) In comparison the same amount of Red Bull contains 110.7mg. In the name of fairness and equality an espresso usually yields 60mg of caffeine and most coffee based liqueurs have around 10mg per 100ml. Now, if we calculate just how much caffeine you’re actually getting let’s assume that in an average single & mixer you’ll be using around 115ml of mixer? Sound right? Who cares, it’s an example.
Off the basis of 115ml mixer per drink there is around 16mg in a Vodka&Coke (or a “V&C” as some fucking idiots persist on calling it) and 55mg in a Vodka RedBull. Interestingly, if you’re using a full espresso shot in an Espresso Martini, you’re giving your customer around 60mg of caffeine. So, is it more dangerous to drink Espresso Martini’s than it is to drink anything else? Going off of the information that various Governments provided: The answer is yes, and it’s no surprise given that most people order them either because they like coffee or they “need waking up” on a night out.
Of course it is completely impossible to talk about this subject without mention of the American brand “Four Loko”. Part of the ‘revolutionary’ Energy Beer movement, Four Loko was, at the height of its power, one of the most fucked up things out there. It had copious amounts of caffeine in it, and ranged from 6% to 14%. It was apparently responsible for a bunch of American students getting alcohol poisoning and the FDA told the company it was no longer fit for human consumption. They worked out all of the kinks and replaced a bunch of stuff with a food dye called RED 40, which just sounds cooler and is probably way more unhealthy. Moral of the story? The caffeine and other things (taurine etc) were blamed for the incidents, not the alcohol.
Put to one side the copious amounts of sugar in everything that is destined to rot away your teeth and plough your pancreas into oblivion, the case might be strongly in favour of not serving alcohol and caffeine: depending on how much you actually care. Things are fine in moderation, but I’m yet to spot a customer that has only one vodka and energy drink because they “just like the taste”.
Caffeine might be doing us more harm than good when it comes to the inclusion of alcohol. Yes there are profits to be made off of shit energy drinks and £2 bottles of vodka. Yes if people cared that much about this sort of issue they would stop serving alcohol all together. Yes caffeine is present in almost every single fucking drink out there but no, we don’t have to just accept it and ignore what it could be doing to us.
Is it time we stopped serving alcohol mixed with energy drinks? Yes. Yes it is. Is it time we stopped serving alcohol with an enlarged amount of caffeine in it? It might be. Is anyone going to pay any attention? Nope.
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