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Bruins in Paris

Pouring into the bar scene

By Jeyling Chou

May 12, 2005 9:00 p.m.

Since doodled figures started spreading their energy
drink-induced wings in television commercials, the popularity and
varieties of the drinks have also soared.

Red Bull, the drink that started it all, claims to improve
performance and concentration, as well as stimulate the

The caffeine jolt is traditionally necessary before long drives,
athletic events, or finals week. But the recognizable blue, red,
and silver cans have now also become a permanent fixture alongside
the vodka bottles and beer taps of the bar.

Caffeine and alcohol combinations, such as the whiskey and
coffee blend of an Irish coffee, have been enjoyed for decades.
Until 2002, Redhook Ale Brewery in Seattle, Wash., produced an ale
brewed with Starbucks coffee.

The kick in the drink phenomenon is not new, but the concept of
marketing it to the younger generation of clubbers and barhoppers

Anheuser-Busch recently unveiled B-to-the-E, a cranked up
modification of their familiar brew, with the addition of ginseng
and guarana, a Brazilian shrub containing caffeine.

Alcohol and energy drinks, most notably a Red Bull Vodka, have
become the most commonly ordered in many Los Angeles nightlife

“I’ve bartended for 10 years, and they’ve been
incredibly popular at every night club I’ve ever worked
at,” said Alison Wright, manager of VIP services at Prey
nightclub in Los Angeles.

The Westwood bar, Maloney’s on Campus, says they go
through four cases of Red Bull a week.

Rumors about the dangers of combining caffeine’s stimulant
effects with the depressant reactions of alcohol have circulated as
fast as the small silver cans are opened and poured behind the

“I’ve heard of the stories about kids who drink Red
Bull and go play football and have a heart attack, but I
can’t see that happening,” said Josh Norman,
Maloney’s manager.

“I’m sure Coke is just as bad for you as Red Bull
is,” Norman said. “I don’t think it’s that
much of an issue amongst these kids.”

Red Bull contains about 80 milligrams of caffeine ““ the
equivalent to a strong cup of coffee.

Although the antagonistic effect of mixing the two has been
likened to putting your foot on both the gas and the brake,
cardiovascularly speaking, studies have found no direct
physiological threats in the mix.

“There’s not anything intrinsically harmful,”
said Thomas Otis, an associate professor of neurobiology who
studies alcohol’s effects on the brain.

A stimulant is any compound that increases the activity of the
nervous system, sometimes resulting in a sense of euphoria or
alertness. A depressant, on the other hand, decreases functions of
the nervous system.

“But the combination can make for situations where people
use poor judgment because they’re more awake ““
they’re more awake and they’re drunker,” he

Studies with human subjects have shown that energy drinks can
repress the cognitive impairment of intoxication.

Reaction times of individuals who drank an energy drink with
alcohol were quicker than those who drank alcohol alone. But the
effect is deceptively dangerous as an energy drink does not
mitigate the other effects of alcohol on vision and

“The energy drink part will make a person more alert, as
coffee does, and that can have unfortunate effects on
people’s judgment,” Otis said. “When someone is
intoxicated on alcohol, and they’re a little bit more alert,
they might be more prone to doing something boneheaded.”

Additionally, caffeine and alcohol both exhibit diuretic
effects, resulting in a doubled dehydration rate of the body and a
higher likelihood for hangovers.

Although there is no evidence that drinks like a Red Bull Vodka
have negative impacts on the heart, there can be indirect long-term
consequences, depending on quantity consumed, Otis said.

Severe alcoholism has often been paired with nutrition
deficiency. Similarly, caffeine is purported to suppress

“If someone were skipping dinner every night and getting
tanked on this stuff, the indirect effects on nutritional health
could be very bad,” Otis said. “But as far as we can
tell, humans are pretty resistant to both of these drugs in

As energy drink slogans promote and push their ability to
provide that extra boost, the idea of getting a second wind on the
dance floor can be appealing to many who frequent nightclubs.

“It’s late at night and you want a little pick me
up, and some people don’t like Coca-Cola,” Wright

“They want the drink just to stay awake for the evening
and enjoy themselves.”

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Jeyling Chou
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