When Lisa*, an undergraduate, heads out for drinks with friends on a Friday night, she isn’t just looking to unwind after a long week holed up in the library – she wants to party till the clubs close.

Her secret weapon? A volatile mix of alcohol and energy drinks. She says, “Regular mixers like Coke and juice don’t cut it anymore. I need that caffeine kick from energy drink mixers, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to stay out as long as I do.”

Instead of conventional mixers like orange juice and soda, some clubbers are asking for energy drinks instead – a cheap, easy way to fend off the sedative effect of alcohol in order to stay up all night.

It’s a trend that clubs are noticing too. The marketing manager of Attica says clubbers tend to mix these drinks with vodka and such mixers are generally a hit with clubbers, both men and women.

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The head of marketing and events at Zouk says energy drinks as mixers are particularly popular at the club’s all-night and outdoor parties such as Zouk Out, when clubbers want the energy and stamina to stay awake longer.

To meet the demand for such drinks, clubs like Avalon have even developed their own in-house energy drink. “At Avalon, we designed a special energy drink called MIX – a combination of off-the-shelf energy drinks. It tastes good by itself, although we notice that our patrons enjoy it most with vodka, as a beverage we call the ‘Vodka MIX’,” says Avalon’s publicist.

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Raising the limits

Compared to conventional mixers like sodas and juices, energy drinks contain stimulants such as caffeine, taurine, ginseng and high levels of glucose.

When used as a mixer, these spike energy levels and superficially mask any fatigue brought on by the depressant and sedative qualities of alcohol.

The result is a clubber who is impaired by alcohol, but feels completely awake and therefore is more likely to binge drink. High on this dangerous mix of boosters and depressants, partygoers end up feeling energetic and sober – when, in fact, they could be completely intoxicated. What’s more, some are also “pre-gaming” with energy drinks – starting out their night on a home mix of alcohol and energy drinks before they even hit the clubs.

Meet the wide-awake drunk

For Samantha*, an air stewardess, discovering the combination of alcohol and energy drinks was like finding a new high. She says: “After being introduced to energy drink mixers by friends at a party, I realised I didn’t get sleepy throughout the night. It’s like having positive intoxication – you’re happy and hyper all night without having to take anything dangerous like drugs. Now, I can stay out till the clubs close every Friday and Saturday night.”

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Adds Keane*, a marketing manager: “Whisky used to be my drink of choice but by 2am, I used to start feeling really sleepy and always had to head home. These days, with energy drink-and-alcohol combos, I can drink more, hang out longer and dance for three or four hours straight because I’m bursting with energy.”

What about the morning after? Clubbers say the feeling is no different from a normal hangover – nausea and a bad headache. But generally, clubbers say they are sober enough to get up and go to work the next morning. Says Keane: “If I’m heading out after a tiring day at work, no other mixer combination does the trick. A headache is sometimes worthwhile if you’ve had a really good night out.”

The cost of getting high

But while it’s all great fun for clubbers, the cost is a misguided sense of alertness. The result? Partygoers are less aware of how drunk they really are and so are more likely to drink too much or, worse still, try to drive home thinking they are perfectly sober.

“It’s the mix of ‘awakening’ ingredients like taurine, glucose and ginseng that contribute to an enhanced alcohol high, but you’re also effectively removing any built-in checks your body has for overindulging. The high comes at a cost,” says a specialist in psychiatry and consultant at Raffles Counselling Centre.

Research from the University of Buffalo has also found a link between the consumption of caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol and casual – and often risky – sex. The report surmises that alcohol mixed with energy drinks contributes to the “hook-up culture” in college campuses. The unintentional overdrinking caused by such drinks also increases the chances of casual sex, which may lead to unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Adds the specialist: “Severely impaired judgment under a facade of sobriety is the real concern, especially for young drinkers who are less likely to know their limits.”

According to Zul*, a bartender at a popular club here: “When people order energy drink mixers with alcohol through the night, they manage to keep drinking without looking or acting very drunk. But they’re actually quite wasted because of the number of drinks they’ve had.”

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A cheap thrill

For young clubbers, it’s about maximising their dollar.

“I can get a variety of energy drinks on the cheap and the high lasts much longer, which means partying all night but not spending as much money,” says Lisa. “I already have bottles of alcohol in my hostel room and after a couple of cans of energy drinks, I don’t need to buy any drinks in the clubs. If I can save at least $200 a month, why not?”

But are the spills really worth the thrills?

According to an accidents and emergency consultant at Changi General Hospital, there are damaging long-term effects: “You face the risk of respiratory depression (a condition in which your lungs are not getting enough oxygen) because the depressant effects of excessive alcohol consumption persist long after the effects of the stimulants have worn off.”

Jamie*, a final-year undergraduate, learnt the dangers the hard way.

She says: “One night, when I’d been mixing energy drinks with my alcohol, I was so hyper that I ended up getting into a physical altercation with a girlfriend over a trivial matter.” Turns out she was much more drunk than she thought.

Luckily, her friend didn’t retaliate and the incident did not escalate, but Jamie says she won’t touch energy drink mixers any more. She says: “I used to have the worst hangovers from overdrinking, but getting aggressive and picking a fight with a friend over nothing was the real wake-up call.

“I’m just thankful I managed to kick the habit without hurting my friends or myself. Alcohol mixed with energy drinks is bad news.”

*Not their real names


This story was originally published in the December 2012 issue of Her World.

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