Although it goes down easier and feels smoother, combining energy drinks with alcohol will get you just as intoxicated.

Red Bull supposedly gives you wings, but when mixed with alcohol the energy drink also gives you blinders—especially to assessing just how drunk you really are.

It’s a popular myth among young people that balancing alcohol intake with Red Bull will lessen the debilitating effects of drinking—such as weakness, muscular tension and difficulty walking—and increase stamina, opening the door to a long night of partying. But, according to a study published in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, while clubbers who consume the colorful concoction often avoid the downer effects of alcohol, their motor coordination still suffers.

“The ingestion of one dose of energy drink was not enough to significantly reduce most of the objectively measured effects of alcohol,” Maria Lucia O. Souza Formigoni, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of psychobiology at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, said via e-mail.

Formigoni, gave 26 males a weekly dose of one of three beverages: alcohol, Red Bull or a combination of both. The alcoholic drinks consisted of 100 to 160 ml of vodka, equivalent to about 2.5 to 4 “standard alcoholic drinks,” according to Formigoni. The subjects submitted to motor and mood tests throughout their three-week trials.

Formigoni found that when subjects drank the combination of Red Bull and vodka, they reported a reduction in perception of alcohol’s side effects, like headaches and sleepiness, compared to when they drank vodka alone.

“We observed a reduction in the subjective sensations of intoxication,” said Formigoni.

At the same time, however, the researchers noticed that performance in standard motor control tests among the Red Bull and vodka groups showed a decrease in fine motor skills and reaction time.

“People should be warned that in spite of the sensation of reduced effects, they are still affected by alcohol, and their motor coordination is impaired,” said Formigoni.

Since clubbers who consume Red Bull and vodka don’t necessarily feel the effects of their drinking, they may guzzle down more than they should, according to Formigoni. She also noted that a sweeter taste might allow people to drink the combination of alcohol and Red Bull faster than other drinks.

The current study is the first controlled scientific examination on the effects of combining alcohol with Red Bull. Next, Formigoni plans to conduct experiments on mice to test what happens with the chronic consumption of alcohol and energy drinks. Their preliminary findings show that more mice react to the stimulant effect of the energy drinks rather than the depressing effect from the liquor.

“If the same occurs to people, we could assume that a higher number of people, especially younger ones, would feel the stimulant effect of alcohol and, enjoying it, would increase their alcohol consumption,” said Formigoni.

Originally published March 27, 2006

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