Study by Northwest Center for Lifestyle and Functional Medicine faculty confirms previous findings showing increased high-risk drinking and driving behaviors among students who combine energy drinks and alcohol

A larger sample of students were surveyed and additional variables related to impaired driving explored

PORTLAND, Ore., Aug. 13, 2015 – Northwest Center for Lifestyle and Functional Medicine (NWCLFM) faculty members Conrad Woolsey, PhD, CHES, CC-AASP, Ron Williams, PhD, CHES, and Will Evans, DC, PhD, MCHES, CWP, recently conducted a larger follow-up study on high-risk drinking and driving behaviors that replicates previous results suggesting that college students who combine alcohol and energy drinks are more likely to choose to drive drunk and to knowingly ride with an intoxicated driver, when compared to students who consume alcohol only.

This investigation represents an expansion of recent studies from this research team, which have been published in multiple peer-reviewed journals and subsequently featured by several news affiliates, such as ABC, CBS and Fox News. The last study on this topic gained considerable attention so the research team wanted to further validate these results.

“It is exciting to see our faculty doing important research that will have an impact on improving public health policy and integrated health care delivery,” Cheryl Hawk, DC, PhD, CHES, CWP, executive director of the NWCLFM said. “Our collaborative focus is on lifestyle and functional research aimed at advancing integrated health care delivery to those we serve.”

The recent investigation surveyed 605 college students regarding their perceptions of high-risk drinking and driving behaviors, as well as their energy drink consumption patterns. Out of that number, 281 participants reported drinking only alcohol within the last month and 268 acknowledged mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

The study’s statistically significant findings include:

  • Among combined-users (i.e., those who consumed alcohol with energy drinks), 36.3 percent indicated they had driven while knowing they were too drunk to drive compared to 17 percent of those who consumed alcohol only (p<.001).
  • 44.1 percent of combined-users said they had chosen to ride as a passenger in a car with a driver who they knew was too drunk to drive safely, compared with 23.6 percent of alcohol-only group (p<.001).
  • Combined-users were also significantly more likely (p <.001) to report indicators of high-risk alcohol use, such as more days drinking and getting drunk as well as riskier binge drinking episodes with more drinks per occasion.

“There is an increasing emphasis on prevention of injuries and dangerous behaviors in health care and public health,” said Dr. Williams, the main contributing author of the study. “We hope these findings can assist health care practitioners to better understand the complex relationship of energy drink consumption and the significant social and public health issue of drunk driving.”

To find out more information on the research team’s most recent article, “Combined Use of Alcohol and Energy Drinks Increases Participation in High-Risk Drinking and Driving Behaviors among College Students,” visit the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. To learn more about the research team’s initial findings, read the manuscript “A Comparison of the Combined-Use of Alcohol & Energy Drinks to Alcohol-Only on High-Risk Drinking and Driving Behaviors,” published in the January 2015 edition of Informa.

Other investigations carried out by NWCLFM faculty have shown that increased energy drink use is also a significant predictor of increased illicit prescription stimulant use, with the odds for abusing prescription stimulants increasing by six percent with each additional day of energy drink use in the past 30 days.

Dr. Woolsey’s earlier manuscript, “Frequency of Energy Drink Use Predicts Illicit Prescription Stimulant Use,” published in Substance Abuse, the official journal of the Association for Medical Education and Research in Substance Abuse (AMERSA), was selected as best manuscript for 2014.
Along with Dr. Williams and colleagues at the NWCLFM, a larger follow-up study and even stronger manuscript was recently published by Substance Abuse. The article entitled “Increased Energy Drink Use as a Predictor of Illicit Prescription Stimulant Use,” takes a more comprehensive look at the topic of energy drink consumption and illicit prescription stimulant use. According to Dr. Woolsey, “These finding are important to health care practitioners because of the harmful interactions that can occur when energy drink ingredients, such as ginseng and yohimbe, are mixed with prescription stimulants.”