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November 19, 2010

College students who frequently drink highly caffeinated beverages, "energy drinks," are at significantly greater risk for alcohol dependence according to a study in a forthcoming issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The findings support the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announcement that it is issuing warning letters to several manufacturers of pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic beverages, according to Amelia Arria, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at the Treatment Research Institute and Director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

Dr. Arria and her research team found that students who frequently consume energy drinks (not pre-mixed with alcohol) were more likely to have gotten drunk at an early age, drink more per drinking session, and were more likely to develop alcohol dependence compared to non-users and the low-frequency users. Importantly, the increased risk for alcohol dependence persisted after adjustment of several "confounding" variables, like risk-taking characteristics and parental history of alcohol problems.

When viewed in connection with the previous findings, the study suggests there are many issues surrounding energy drinks, alcohol-laced or not. "Young adults need to understand the potential risks associated with drinking energy drinks on a frequent basis. Mixing high amounts of caffeine with alcohol on their own is similar to drinking a pre-mixed beverage and can pose health and safety risks." said Dr. Arria.

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