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Mixing Energy Drinks, Alcohol Tied to Abusive Drinking in Teens

April 30, 2015
Lebanon, NH

Expanding what we know about college students mixing alcohol with energy drinks, investigators from Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center found teens aged 15-17 years old who had ever mixed alcohol with energy drinks were four times more likely to meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder than a teen who has tried alcohol but never mixed it with an energy drink. The Dartmouth team, led by James D. Sargent, MD with first author Jennifer A. Emond, MSc, PhD published "Energy drink consumption and the risk of alcohol use disorder among a national sample of adolescents and young adults," in Journal of Pediatrics.

"These findings are concerning," said Emond. "They highlight that mixed use of alcohol and energy drinks may signal the development of abusive drinking behaviors among adolescents."

Several studies have documented a link between consuming alcohol mixed with energy drinks and the increased rates of negative outcomes while drinking, including binge drinking. However, most studies to date have been conducted among undergraduate college students.

Sargent's team looked at a sample of 3,342 adolescents and young adults aged 15-23 years old recruited across the U.S. They found that 9.7% of adolescents aged 15-17 years old had consumed an energy drink mixed with alcohol. Analyses showed that group to have greatly increased odds of not just binge drinking, but also clinically defined criteria for alcohol use disorder.

"Abusive alcohol use among adolescents is a dangerous behavior that can lead to injury, chronic alcohol use and abuse, and even death," said Emond. "Identifying those most at risk for alcohol use is critical. Given that this is a sensitive issue, it's possible that clinicians, parents, and educators might open dialogues about alcohol use with adolescents by starting the discussion on the topic of energy drinks."

Looking forward, the Dartmouth team will consider how the marketing of energy drinks may influence an adolescent's perception of use of energy drinks, including the acceptability of mixed use with alcohol.

Sargent holds the Scott M & Lisa G Stuart Professorship in Pediatrics, and is Professor of Community & Family Medicine, at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, and Professor of The Dartmouth Institute. Emond is Instructor in Community & Family Medicine at Geisel. Their work in cancer is facilitated by Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center where Sargent is Co-Director of the Cancer Control Research Program.

"Energy drink consumption and the risk of alcohol use disorder among a national sample of adolescents and young adults," was supported by The National Institutes of Health through grants CA077026, AA015591, and AA021347. Additional funding was provided by Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock

Norris Cotton Cancer Center combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth and the Geisel School of Medicine with patient-centered cancer care provided at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH, at Dartmouth-Hitchcock regional locations in Manchester, Nashua, and Keene, NH, and St. Johnsbury, VT, and at 12 partner hospitals throughout New Hampshire and Vermont. It is one of 41 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute's "Comprehensive Cancer Center" designation. Learn more about Norris Cotton Cancer Center research, programs, and clinical trials online at cancer.dartmouth.edu.

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