The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks, giving them 30 days to provide scientific evidence that their caffeinated crossover beverages are safe. FDA letters went out to nearly 30 manufacturers recently, representing the earliest stages in the government’s efforts to curb what researchers consider a dangerous trend: the mixing of alcohol and caffeine.
Twenty-five percent of college drinkers prefer to party with alcoholic energy drinks because the caffeine enables them to keep going and drink more. After Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors introduced the first caffeine-alcohol hybrids to the market two years ago, the attorneys general of 29 states successfully pressured them to remove the caffeine from the drinks. Sparks, made by MillerCoors, contained 6% alcohol, while the alcohol content of Anheuser-Busch’s Tilt varied from 6.6% to 8%, depending on flavor.
A multitude of smaller manufacturers began producing alcoholic energy drinks to fill the market void that was created when the beer giants agreed to eliminate caffeine from their alcoholic beverages.
According to research conducted by Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien of Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine, students who drank combinations of alcohol and caffeine risked injury and other alcohol-related consequences at a rate much higher than those who drank alcohol without caffeine. Alcoholic drinks containing caffeine effectively mask feelings of intoxication, making drinkers feel mistakenly sober or less intoxicated than they actually are.
The FDA says that although caffeine is an approved and legal substance, it is illegal to use it in ways that aren’t approved by the agency, such as combining it with alcohol.