Adding fuel to the fire

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Photo illustration

Caffeine-alcohol mix poses risks, UK professor says

By Alex Risen

Mixing alcohol and a caffeinated drink is nothing new for college students.

However, a new type of product sold around the country, including Lexington, combines the two substances into one can. While the combination may suggest the ability to party all night long, the results can be more dangerous than a good buzz, said UK psychology professor Mark Fillmore.

“The combination of those two substances (alcohol and caffeine) at those levels causes an individual to lose his or her inhibition,” Fillmore said. “That can lead to some dangerous situations.”

Fillmore’s research found that when people have alcohol but no caffeine, they usually feel the alcohol’s effects and understand that their motor skills are weaker.

But when caffeine was added to the alcohol, research subjects in Fillmore’s study perceived that their motor skills were normal even though they were clearly impaired.

Still, people are buying

Photo illustration by Ed Matthews | Staff

Caffeinated alcohol is selling well at a South Limestone Speedway close to campus. Nearly 60 out of every 100 people who buy alcohol spring for the store’s Sparks, Joose and Tilt brands, all caffeinated alcohol drinks, said assistant manager Chris Price.

The crowd who buys them tends to be younger, he said.

“There’s a good mix of people that buy the drinks. You get anyone as young as 21 to some in their early thirties,” Price said. “I don’t know much about the drinks, but I know that people are really starting to like them.”

Buying a case of beer at Speedway Thursday night, Mandy Bastin said she enjoys the occasional caffeinated alcohol drink before a night out at the bars. Bastin said while there are always risks with alcohol, responsible drinking is the most important thing.

“I wouldn’t drink them to get drunk, but when I want something to wake me up,” said Bastin, a sociology senior.

In the FAQ section of the Sparks brand beverage Web site, (, the company responded to claims that mixing alcohol and caffeine is dangerous by saying there is “a limited amount of scientific data out there on this topic.”

“Alcohol and caffeine have been consumed in combination or in sequence for decades,” the Web site said.

However, Fillmore said he is skeptical. The new drinks are not only more dangerous, but are being marketed toward young people who already drink Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and other highly caffeinated drinks, he said.

The appeal to younger crowds is an easy transition for those who are used to energy drinks, Fillmore said, but the effects of caffeinated alcohol and an energy drink are drastically different.

“By mixing alcohol, a depressant, with caffeine, a stimulant, you get this result of feeling wide awake even though you’re intoxicated,” Fillmore said.

The drinks come in cans double the size of a 12-ounce beer can, and brands such as Joose and Maxed are 10 percent alcohol by volume, almost twice that of a normal beer.

Fillmore said his research proves those who are told the caffeinated concoctions will get them drunk faster restrain themselves from drinking as much, he said. Meanwhile, he said those who are told nothing about the drinks let themselves get drunk without realizing it because of the caffeine.

“These drinks will not make you feel as impaired as you really are because the caffeine levels are so high,” Fillmore said. “Because of that, you can be drunk and attempt things you normally wouldn’t do if you had only been drinking alcohol, like drive home.”