Mixing alcohol with caffeine-rich energy beverages is a trend that is continuing to rise in Canada, despite repeated warnings that the combination is unsafe, a new report warns.
The report urges governments to act, saying prices on pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages should be raised to reflect the fact that they are a higher-risk product.
It also suggests governments should discourage or even ban sales of regular energy drinks or pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages in high-risk settings like bars and clubs.
The report is from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria.
Public health authorities have been warning for years that mixing high-caffeine energy drinks with alcohol is a dangerous practice that is growing in popularity, particularly among young people.
The caffeine masks the sense of inebriation, allowing people to drink more because they feel less impaired than they actually are.
Surveys suggest young people mix alcohol with energy drinks so they can party longer or drink without feeling drunk.
In the U.S., several states have banned the pre-mixed forms of these drinks in response to high-profile hospitalizations of college students who had over-imbibed caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
In November 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration went so far as to issue warning letters to four manufacturers of alcoholic energy drinks, calling the addition of caffeine to the beverages an unsafe food additive.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said combining alcohol and caffeine can lead to "a state of wide-awake drunk." Their consumption, Hamburg said, has triggered cases of alcohol poisoning, car accidents and assaults.
Health Canada is studying caffeinated energy drinks and has proposed several policy changes, including requiring energy drink containers to bear a warning against mixing the products with alcohol.
But the new report said some manufacturers already label their products this way. Further, it said there is survey evidence that the majority of young consumers of caffeinated alcoholic beverages know the risks and are unswayed by the warnings.