There are growing concerns within the medical profession that young people are mixing high caffeine ‘energy’ drinks with alcohol. The affects are disastrous and has led Steve Hambleton, vice president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), to speak out.

He has called for an open debate involving health experts and spear headed by government to discuss the merits of ‘energy’ drinks. His concerns are that some of the violence and drink driving associated with Saturday nights may be attributed to a mix of highly caffeinated drinks and alcohol.

Mr Hambleton said “it may well be giving intoxicated people more confidence, we are worried about them getting in a car and driving… and it may actually be leading to extra violence.”

Caffeine is an addictive substance which acts as a cardiac and central nervous system stimulant. The risk of withdrawal symptoms from long term consumption of low doses is higher in children than adults (FSANZ). As there is inconclusive evidence about a safe level for children, the sale of caffeinated beverages is not allowed in schools and preschools.

Typically an ‘energy’ drink contain around 160 – 300mg of caffeine per 500 ml serve, compare this to coffee which as 40-80mg per cup or tea which has about 30mg.

Apart from its addictive nature, caffeine can also have adverse effects such as insomnia, nervousness, rapid heart rate, hypertension, anxiety and hyper activity which when combined with alcohol, have the ability to destabilise a person and give them a heightened and distorted sense of confidence.

In addition, withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, anxiety and irritability are likely to occur with a reduction in caffeine intake.

Dr Hambleton continued “I think we’ve certainly got to have a rethink about how we use it and the role of caffeine in our society,” he said.

“There seems to be a very big push for these caffeinated drinks and of course there’s a lot of caffeine in some of these energy drinks…  if you mix that with alcohol, well it can be a dangerous mix” he added.

The issue of ‘energy’ drinks in schools was also raised by Dr Hambleton who said “we know that there’s an interference with kids concentration at school. I think it’s time we had a look at this again.”

The government has already raised concerns about ‘energy’ drinks being supplied to children and they are banned from sale in schools.
A fact sheet (developed by SA Health in partnership with DECS for the Right Bite strategy) outlining the adverse affects of caffeinated drinks including difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, nervousness, headaches, anxiety, physiological dependence to caffeine and anxiety was circulated in some  high schools at the beginning of the year.

The Right Bite strategy takes an educative approach to providing healthy food and drink choices in schools and preschools. While there are no set guidelines relating to students bringing ‘energy’ drinks, individual schools are encouraged to develop whole of school strategies in consultation with their school community, based on accurate information and with regard to student health and wellbeing.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

Source: Australian Medical Association. DECS