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It's a strange but sad reality, that with each Christmas season, there is a spike in road deaths, suicides, violence, un-planned pregnancies ... the list is a long yet tragic one. One common denominator in all of this is alcohol. I am not a "wooze" as we say here in Oz, but I do know something about the chemistry of alcohol and its effects on the human body - particularly the brain - and alcohol can best be described as having a very narrow "therapeutic index". What this means is that, like Warfarin which we use to "thin the blood" in people with certain medical conditions, just enough is OK, but too much can be lethal: and with alcohol, if you exceed the recommended "dose", you might be putting your life at risk.
After a couple of standard drinks, the effects of alcohol become depressant and start to anesthetize the brain: too much can lead to coma and death. To counteract this drowsying effect, there is a trend amongst young people to mix alcoholic drinks, and other so called "recreational" drugs, with Energy Drinks. This has led to a spike in Emergency Room admissions in the US, and worldwide concern amongst health care workers that the "collateral damage" from these sorts of Caffeine/alcohol/drug combinations is going to get worse this Christmas.
Apparently the rationale behind adding caffeine to alcohol is that it makes the user feel less drunk: the reality is that "You're every bit as drunk, you're just an awake drunk," according to Mary Claire O'Brien, associate professor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Centre in Winston-Salem. In her 2006 study published in Academic Emergency Medicine, she showed that students who mixed energy drinks with alcohol got drunk twice as often as those who consumed alcohol by itself, and were far more likely to be injured or require medical treatment while drinking. Energy drink mixers were more likely to be victims or perpetrators of aggressive sexual behavior.
According to a report from SAMHSA in the US, "Studies indicate that excessive caffeine intake from energy drinks can cause adverse reactions, such as arrhythmias, hypertension, and dehydration. Combining energy drinks with substances of abuse raises the risk for serious, even life-threatening, injury and for the likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence."
We need to let those young people who down their "alco pops" - or other energy drink/alcohol/drug combinations - and go out "clubbing", know that they might in fact end up dancing with death: theirs, or one of their friends.
So lets celebrate Christmas with clear heads, not hangovers: and may the only one with a red nose be Rudolf!