A “modern” drinking practice: Alcohol and energy drinks

It is now timely to consider how liquor laws can promote the health and safety of all British Columbians as BC has decided to review its liquor policies for the first time since 1999. Drinking patterns change over time and often new products emerge. One such emerging issue is the growing practice of mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

The consumption of energy drinks has gained in popularity and the practice of mixing them with alcohol has become commonly adopted by young adults in Canada. Energy drinks are widely available in liquor outlets and at drinking events where they are also often heavily promoted. When cocktails which mix energy drinks with alcohol are ordered at drinking establishments, sometimes a pre-mixed cocktail is served and sometimes the customer has to mix the cocktail themselves.

Despite the regular practice of mixing alcohol with energy drinks (which may occur for several reasons), the labels of energy drinks warn against their consumption with alcohol. Mixing them with alcohol is not approved by Health Canada and is advised against. As reported by the media and in scientific research, multiple hospitalizations, deaths, and other adverse consequences have been associated with the consumption of alcohol and energy drinks. Researchers have found that the consumption of alcohol and energy drinks, compared to alcohol use alone, is associated with an increased risk of heavy alcohol use, requiring medical treatment, being hurt or injured, drinking and driving, and engaging in high-risk sexual behaviours.

In response to more general concerns regarding the safety of energy drinks, Canadian policy makers have considered implementing regulations on energy drinks, although these regulations appear to have fallen short in terms of addressing the mixing of energy drinks with alcohol (see policy report for more details). Other countries (e.g., U.S.) have addressed safety issues with energy drinks and alcohol by banning the production and sale of high-risk alcoholic energy drinks (high alcohol content cocktails marketed as energy drinks). In Canada, some provinces have limited the amount of caffeine which can be permitted in an alcoholic beverage to 30mg/beverage. This regulation is a step forward in protecting the health and safety of Canadian consumers, although it fails to address the hand-mixing of alcohol and energy drinks which is more common. It also does not address the availability of energy drinks in establishments where alcohol is sold.

Although the research in this field has its limitations, risks associated with combining alcohol and energy drinks has been identified. In these circumstances, liquor laws need to be adapted. Should alcohol establishments be permitted to sell energy drinks mixed with alcohol? Should energy drinks be sold in drinking establishments? Should energy drinks be heavily marketed in these establishments? A transparent discussion of this emerging public health issue is surely warranted in the context of the current policy review.

Should a modern BC liquor policy include regulations on selling high caffeine content energy drinks in risky environments like bars and clubs?

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Author: Kristina Brache

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