Many thousands of young Australians are mixing alcohol with caffeine-laden energy drinks with little regard for the potential dangers, according to newly published research.
Around 40% of young current drinkers reported drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmED) in the previous year, despite evidence this can cause arrhythmias, anxiety and a range of other health problems. Data from two surveys involving over 3200 adults in NSW found one in six adult drinkers surveyed in entertainment districts around the state said they had consumed AmED in the previous 12 hours.
The study in the latest issue of Public Health Research & Practice, published by the Sax Institute, found that AmED consumers were generally younger, more likely to be male and more likely to be a student than non-consumers. They were also more likely to drink heavily and to report risky substance abuse issues.
The majority of drinkers surveyed exceeded the recommended daily intake of two standard 250ml energy drinks, as specified by current Australian guidelines for formulated caffeinated beverages.
Lead author Dr Amy Pennay, a research fellow at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, said AmED consumption has been associated with a number of harms.
“Emergency departments have seen a rise in the number of AmED-related presentations over the past decade,” she said.
“Consumers can experience a range of side effects, including heart palpitations, tremors, insomnia, visual disturbances or nausea. The stimulation from energy drinks can also counteract the sedative effects of alcohol, encouraging heavier and more risky drinking.”
She added that very little effort has been put into raising awareness of Australian energy drink guidelines or helping drinkers to follow them.
“Policy makers should think about prohibiting servings of energy drinks that are larger than a standard serving, so consumers know how much caffeine they are consuming. We should also ensure information about these recommendations are widely disseminated, including in licensed venues.”
Most energy drinks contain at least as much caffeine as an espresso shot, as well as large amounts of sugar or sweetener.
The study authors write that AmED consumption may be a useful indicator of risky substance abuse, and that asking about it could help health professionals identify potentially problematic alcohol or substance use in their patients.
Alcohol mixed with energy drinks were first introduced into the Australian market around 20 years ago, but only three studies to date have attempted to estimate consumption rates in Australia.
Another paper in this edition of the Journal showcases an innovative means of improving access to healthcare in rural Australia. Dr Sue Kirby of the Centre for Primary Health Care and Equity at UNSW and colleagues report on a successful speech pathology program for primary school children in Broken Hill, Western NSW, that uses tertiary speech pathology students on rural clinical placement.
The program “has the potential to revolutionise undergraduate learning placements, as well as address the chronic health professional shortage in rural Australia”, the authors write.
The issue of technology projects in healthcare is addressed in another paper by Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, who has studied failed public sector projects and identified five key barriers to success.
To improve the odds of a good outcome, “seek to understand where the complexities lie, reduce those complexities where possible, and manage the remaining complexities adaptively and creatively”, she writes.
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