The old rumor was that you can sober up by drinking some coffee before driving home. Not only is it not true, but believing this myth can create a false sense of sobriety. As such, people who drink coffee to sober up might be more likely to drive after drinking because they inaccurately think that they are sober.
I can only guess that this myth has, at least in part, helped form the belief that mixing alcohol with energy drinks keeps a person more alert to drive after drinking. This trend is especially popular with younger, college aged drinkers. Those college days are long gone for me, but on the rare occasion when I do go out for a drink, I can say that some of the more popular drinks ordered by people are Rockstar and vodka, Redbull and vodka, and Jagerbombs, to name a few.
Many of the energy drinks have contain stimulants like caffeine, taurine and ginseng. However, alcohol is a depressant. While many people might think that the effect from stimulants counterbalance the depressant effects from alcohol, in actuality mixing the two actually sends the body mixed signals.
People often mix energy drinks with alcohol because they think that it can combat the dreaded hangover. Hangovers occur partly due to the fact that a person is dehydrated from drinking alcohol. Energy drinks are diuretics which cause the drinker to lose water. The combination of the two will actually dehydrate the drinker more causing a worse hangover. This is especially true if the person thinks they can drink more because they are mixing energy drinks and alcohol.
Lastly, a study in 2010 found that college students who mix energy drinks with alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behaviors including driving drunk or accepting a ride from someone who was drunk. According to Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien of Wake Forest University, who conducted the study, “Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times, and judgment are impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they’re also ingesting a stimulant. Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced – but not the drunkenness. They can’t tell if they’re drunk; they can’t tell if someone else is drunk.” Therefore, if people are less likely to tell if they are drunk, they are more likely to think they are sober enough to drive or someone whom they accept a ride from is sober enough to drive.
Moral of the story is that even if you plan on drinking energy drinks and alcohol, don’t do it so that you can drive later. Get a designated driver whom you know is not drinking.