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The Caffeine-Alcohol Effect

Why quaffing energy-drink cocktails may be riskier than sticking to booze alone
 Source: The Atlantic
Amy Nordrum
Nov 7 2014 

One in four people in their early 20s have done it-mixed the stimulating effects of an energy drink with the buzz-inducing properties of alcohol. While partiers swig and stay out late, health experts worry that alcoholic energy drinks cloud their judgment in two important ways: by making people think they are not as drunk as if they’d only had alcohol, and causing them to crave another round more strongly. These effects could explain why people who add caffeine to their cocktail are at greater risk of being in an accident or making a decision they will later regret (like getting in the car with a drunk driver) than those who stick to straight booze.

When the world’s first energy drink debuted in 1987, it didn’t take long for Red Bull to find its way behind the bar. Bartenders soon started mixing Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar with vodka, gin, Jagermeister, and hard cider. These caffeine-laced cocktails became so popular, major beverage companies created canned and bottled versions like Four Loko to sell in convenience stores.

“Since caffeine lasts for six hours, that extends that time when you feel alert, and that makes you want to drink more.”

But as the popularity of alcoholic energy drinks rose, so too did the frequency of emergency-room visits by those who drank them. The rate of visits involving energy drinks in general doubled from 10,000 in 2007 to 20,000 in 2011, and about 2,600 of the visits in 2011 had to do with alcoholic energy drinks. That uncomfortable spike prompted the FDA to ban premixed alcoholic energy drinks including Four Loko-which contained 156 mg of caffeine and 12 percent alcohol, or the equivalent of four beers and a cup of coffee-in 2010.

Today, these drinks still flow freely in bars and restaurants-like at TGI Fridays, where the “Diddy Up” cocktail comes with Ciroc vodka, ruby red grapefruit, Red Bull and fresh-squeezed lime. It was added to the menu in 2010 and “continues to be a favorite for many of our Fridays guests” according to a company spokesperson. Dave and Busters boasts the “Raging Berry Bull” made with vanilla vodka, lemonade, and strawberry ice cubes, plus a can of blueberry-flavored Red Bull. The Black Diamond, a bar in Spokane, Washington, features a drink called “Hell Yeah” made with huckleberry vodka, citrus vodka, cranberry, and Red Bull. Jon Legault, the Black Diamond’s general manager, says he added it recently because “a lot of good drinks involve energy drinks nowadays.”

Kathleen Miller, a sociologist and researcher at University at Buffalo, says these cocktails pose a greater risk than the premixed versions that came in cans and bottles because more people are ordering them from bars than ever bought drinks like Four Loko from a store. She adds that college students have been the focus of most of the research on possible risks.

Cecile Marczinski, a psychological researcher from Northern Kentucky University, says the caffeine in these drinks has the ability to mask intoxication which could make people underestimate how drunk they are and impair their ability to cut themselves off. Subjects in several of her experiments who drank alcoholic energy drinks rated their own drunkenness as lower than subjects with the same blood alcohol content who only had alcohol.

Marczinski also says feeling tired is an important factor in many people’s decision to stop drinking, but that caffeine renders these feelings obsolete. “Since caffeine lasts for six hours, that extends that time when you feel really stimulated and alert and that makes you want to drink more,” she explains. Energy drinks contain between 50 and 500 mg of caffeine, along with additives like guarana and ginseng that also act like stimulants in many people. Sodas, another common mixer, contain about 34 mg to 54 mg of caffeine, but can also heighten intoxication as compared with alcohol alone when used as mixers.

From surveys, researchers do know that people who drink alcoholic energy drinks also consume more alcohol and tend to drink for longer than people who drink just booze. This could mean that heavy drinkers are simply more likely to order a vodka Red Bull, but it could also be a direct result of the masking effect-a question that Marczinski is testing right now in her lab.

The results of another recent experiment might also help explain why people who drink alcoholic energy drinks tend to drink more, and for longer. Rebecca McKetin, a researcher at Australian National University, showed that drinking a vodka-Red Bull created a stronger urge in subjects to keep drinking than having a plain cocktail with the same amount of booze.

She demonstrated this “priming effect” by pouring drinks for 75 participants, half with Smirnoff vodka and soda water, and the other half with vodka and Red Bull. Adding Red Bull made participants twice as likely to want to drink more than if they had consumed only alcohol, which McKetin considered a small to medium effect. She did not study whether participants actually would consume more drinks-just whether or not they wanted to.

“This is a really promising line of research,” Miller says. “There’s a whole host of reasons why alcoholic energy drinks may be significantly riskier in terms of over-drinking and adverse outcomes. Priming is just one piece of the equation, but it’s an important one.”

Not everyone agrees that alcoholic energy drinks are riskier than plain cocktails. Joris Verster, a pharmacologist at Utrecht University, questions the real-world implications of McKetin and Marczinski’s results. “It is never actually tested by these authors if participants will indeed consume more of the beverage,” Verster says. In his own survey of 2,000 students-which was, notably, funded by Red Bull-subjects reported lower overall consumption of alcoholic energy drinks than those with just alcohol over the course of a night when they were drinking only one or the other.

Caffeine and alcohol don’t even need to be in the same glass to show an effect.

Other researchers who have looked more directly at the consequences of drinking alcoholic energy drinks do find support for the idea that they are riskier, but often can’t prove that the drinks actually caused a hangover to happen, just that those who drink alcoholic energy drinks also tend to have more hangovers.

Megan Patrick, a sociologist at University of Michigan, surveyed 500 students about their drinking habits. The students who drank alcoholic energy drinks reported two to three times more negative consequences-like having a hangover or passing out-when compared with those who stuck to alcohol.

In another study, Patrick found that caffeine and alcohol don’t even need to be in the same glass to show an effect. Students who drank energy drinks and alcohol in the same day, but not at the same time, were still at a higher risk for negative consequences than those who did not have an energy drink all day. On those days when they did have energy drinks, students also drank 11 percent more alcohol and drank for five percent longer than on days when they did not.

As experts better identify the impacts of alcoholic energy drinks, the effort to make them safer could take several forms. College campuses might caution students to be careful while enjoying alcoholic energy drinks, or state alcohol beverage control boards could step in to regulate these beverages in bars and restaurants, as the FDA did with Four Loko. “There are plenty of ways to keep alcohol safer,” Marczinski says.

There has been a slight drop in teens who try alcoholic energy drinks since Four Loko was outlawed, according to Lloyd Johnston, a sociologist at University of Michigan who leads an ongoing study of drug use among adolescents. Even so, the latest results from 2013 show that one in four high school seniors has tried these drinks in the past year. Once they reach college, these teens could benefit from what researchers have learned from testing the classes that came before them-namely, that ordering a vodka cranberry instead of a vodka Red Bull might be a smarter choice.



Adolescent Brain Development & Substance Abuse Trends Presentations


Adolescent Brain Development & Substance Abuse Trends Presentations with Michael Nerney

Michael Nerney, a nationally-renowned expert on substance abuse education and prevention, will present at Flood Brook School on Wednesday, November 5 from 6:30-8 PM and Green Mountain Union High School on Thursday, November 6 from 6:30-8 PM. Nerney will give an engaging presentation on the current trends in adolescent substance abuse, high risk behaviors, and advances in adolescent brain research, putting new information into a framework that makes sense.

Parents and community members are invited to share in this educational evening to learn about the scope of the local, statewide, and national substance abuse problem; explore the underlying reasons for the increase in substance abuse among teens; discuss new drug trends and concurrent high risk behaviors; and explore possible prevention strategies.

These presentations have been made possible by a grant from the Vermont Country Store and the Berkshire Bank. The idea to host the presentation in Londonderry came from the series of community forums that were recently initiated by Neighborhood Connections. A subcommittee of concerned community members wanted to bring Michael Nerney’s presentation to our area. For more information, email or call 802-824-4200.


Wednesday, November 5 from 6:30-8 PM at Flood Brook School

Thursday, November 6 from 6:30-8 PM at Green Mountain Union High School


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Seeking P/T Afterschool Program Specialist



Job Title: Afterschool Program Specialist

Reports To: EDP Coordinator

Job purpose

The Afterschool Program Specialist is responsible for creating fun, enriching, and engaging programs and a safe environment for the youth attending The Collaborative’s afterschool Extended Day Program.

Duties and responsibilities


  • Developing and facilitating programs for youth-homework help, arts enrichment activities, fun physical activities, etc.
  • Providing youth a healthy snack
  • Creating and posting a programming schedule
  • Having fun with K-5 youth!


  • Assisting the EDP Coordinator with administrative tasks as needed
  • Communicating and building a relationship with parents
  • Assuring all EDP activities and programs adhere to licensing rules


  • Overseeing and building a relationship with youth
  • Tracking youth behavior


  • Some college, BA preferred
  • Experience with Microsoft Office, social media, and other computer software
  • Previous experience working with youth
  • Ability to manage time, multiple projects, and deadlines
  • Positive attitude, organized, enjoys working with youth

Working conditions

Afterschool Program Specialist will primarily work from 2-6pm, with room for some flexibility, onsite at the Extended Day Program located in Flood Brook School. 15-20 total work hours each week.


$12-$14 per hour, depending on experience level. Child can participate in the Extended Day Program afterschool program free of charge. Time off accrual.

How To Apply           

Applicants may submit a résumé via email to or mail to:

The Collaborative, Attn: Kerri MacLaury, PO Box 32, S. Londonderry, VT 05155

Or fill out an online staff application at


The Collaborative’s 2014 Annual Online Auction

The Collaborative’s annual Fall online auction is underway!

Join the fun and bidding excitement while helping to support

The Collaborative’s programs.

Thanks to the generous donations of our business community (near and far),

there is a fabulous variety of auction items to entice you! 

Check out all the great auction items:

The Collaborative 2014 Online Auction

A few featured items include:

1) Just Because I Can: Bondville Bloomist and Clark’s IGA

2) Leave the Cooking to Us: Firefly Restaurant

3) Keep Warm: Pallet of Pellets from Stove Depot

4) Quality Auto Care: KNJ Motorsports



Seeking Extended Day Program Assistant


The Collaborative is looking for a dynamic, organized individual for its Extended Day Program Assistant position. The EDP Assistant is responsible for creating safe, fun, and engaging programs and environment for the youth attending The Collaborative’s EDP afterschool program.

Some of this position’s duties and responsibilities include developing and facilitating programs for youth; creating and posting a programming schedule; having fun with K-8 grade youth; assisting the EDP Coordinator with administrative tasks; communicating with EDP parents; and overseeing support staff.

Some college or a BA is preferred, as well as experience working with youth, computers, and computer programs. Strong organizational and time management skills a must.

The EDP Assistant will work up to 15 hours/week, generally from 3-6 pm, onsite at Flood Brook School. $12-14 per hour, depending on experience level. Benefits include-EDP Assistant’s children, who are of an appropriate age, may attend the EDP afterschool program free of charge and time off accrual.

To apply, submit your resume to or fill out our online staff application.


YOU’RE INVITED • 11 Miles of Trouble


If you’re looking for a trail that has a little bit of everything from smooth paved and gravel roads to back roads and great views the West River Trail is right up your alley!

• Click to check out the 11 Miles of Trouble Map

The West River Trail Run starts at 9am at the South Londonderry Depot on Route 100 and ends at Jamaica State Park. Individual runners and hikers and relay teams of three are invited to register. Proceeds support The Collaborative’s mission to promote the development of a healthy, involved community supporting substance free youth in a caring environment.

Find us on facebook to stay updated with event details. Visit our West River Trail Run page for more information and click here for direct registration links.

A big thank you to our sponsors and kind community donors.

Friends of the West River Trail, Stratton Mountain Resort, The Mountain Goat, Real Sports, Southern Vt Tech Rescue Inc, C & J Stoddard, Crystal Rock, Vew-do Balance boards, Salomon Shoes, Grandma Millers, Rutland Regional Medical Center, Battenkill Brittle, VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, Jamaica State Park, Flood Brook Girls On The Run,  and Londonderry Rescue Squad.




Health & Wellness Week 2014



April 28th, 2014 kicked off Health and Wellness Week at Burr and Burton Academy. The Student Run Activities Committee, Our Voices Xposed, and the BBA Health Center partnered with The Collaborative to get the message out to the student body, faculty and staff about the causes of impaired driving and what can be done to prevent impaired driving. Faculty members spoke on how others impaired driving decisions affected their lives and about the experience and responsibilities of an individual when responding to an accident. Students took part in a Ghost Out Day assembly to start the week of awareness, each day will include an awareness activity during lunch in the cafeteria. Topics include: Impaired and distracted driving, tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, nutrition and fitness, alcohol and more.


Happy Kick Butts Day!

kbd logo

March 19th is national Kick Butts Day sponsored by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids! The Collaborative is celebrating fun events at Flood Brook School and Burr and Burton Academy. Check out the photos below and see what youth in the community got up to!

kbd mr kicked butt

AmeriCorps members Lynnette Volden and Jesilyn Amsden kick butts, literally!

kbd numbers campagin

“These 10 silhouettes represent the 10,000 youth alive in Vermont right now that will eventually die of tobacco related causes unless we speak up and speak out.”

The Vermont Kids Against Tobacco group at Flood Brook School created this numbers campaign to bring awareness to tobacco use among teens in Vermont.

kbd ovx

AmeriCorps member Jesilyn Amsden and Burr and Burton Our Voices Exposed member Stella Oh post resources on the wellness board at BBA.


VT Young Adult Survey

If you’re between 18 and 25, take a few minutes and fill out the 2014 Vermont Young Adult Survey.

vt young adult survey

Your opinion on substance use counts, AND you could win a cash prize of up to $250!

Click here to fill out of the survey or visit facebook to see the page.

The Vermont Department of Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, and The Collaborative thank you for making your voice heard and helping us make Vermont a healthier state!