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Alcohol Plus Energy Drink Can Turn Deadly

May 21, 2008

The effect of mixing energy drinks with alcohol — increasingly the cocktail of choice among high school and college students — can be toxic, experts say.

High on caffeine and sugar, the body is revved and the mind unable to know when to stop.

“Any time you mix a depressant with a nondepressant, you’re doing things to your heart,” said Doris Carroll, executive director of the Palm Beach County Substance Abuse Coalition. “It drives your body crazy.”

A surge of caffeine can result in an abnormal heartbeat, such as the heart palpitations that occur when people drink coffee. At the same time, alcohol slows the heart. In some cases, death can occur suddenly, said Dr. Steven Lipshultz, chairman of the University of Miami’s pediatrics department.

What killed 16-year-old Ashley Ramnauth, of Wellington, last weekend is unclear, with toxicology results still pending. But in a statement provided to Palm Beach County School District officials, her parents said the A student made a “bad decision to consume energy drinks and alcohol in combination.”

Both energy drinks and alcohol are diuretics, which dehydrate the body. People can become disoriented, pass out and have seizures, Lipshultz said. The combination is “sort of a double whammy,” he said. The effects on the body vary depending on the amount of caffeine consumed, the person’s weight and underlying health issues such as diabetes. Even without alcohol, energy drinks sent four eighth-graders in Broward County to the hospital in March when the boys were sweating with increased heart rates.

Young people may think the drinks, laden with ingredients such as guarana and ginseng, are safe despite their risks alone or in combination with alcohol, Lipshultz said.




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