There is increasing evidence that a growing proportion of young people are using alcohol in combination with energy drinks. There is currently no prevalence data available in Australia on alcohol energy drink (AED) use. However, estimates from the United States of America, Canada and Italy indicate that between one quarter and one half of University students have consumed AED.
As one of the first AED studies in Australia, this research aimed to:
There were three qualitative data collection components employed in this pilot study: five discreet sessions of observation in licensed venues in Melbourne, in-depth interviews with 10 regular consumers of AED and in-depth interviews with 12 ‘key informants’ (including venue staff, emergency services personnel, community health workers and policy makers).
The study found that:
Cited benefits of AED use included increased wakefulness, taste, promotion of wakeful drunkenness, quicker intoxication and the social nature of the drinking process. AED were used as a substitute for illicit substances such as cocaine and amphetamines, as they promoted alertness, and a similar wakeful drunkenness.
The problems associated with AED use were difficulty sleeping, worse hangover, increased heart rate and palpitations, greater likelihood of vomiting on the night and the next day.
More research is required examining the harms associated with AED use because the use of AED is significantly under-researched both in Australia and internationally, and at the time of the research this was only second known qualitative study that has been conducted on this topic internationally.
Future research should be conducted in larger samples using both purposive and random sampling approaches. Australia must begin to regularly collect AED prevalence data at a population level. One suggestion would be to add questions about energy drink use and AED use to national surveys such as the National Drug Strategy Household Survey.
In Australia the only known regulatory approach to AED is in Western Australia, where the state government has banned the sale of AED in licensed venues after midnight. Drawing from international examples, potential avenues for regulatory action include:
Amy Pennay, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research
Professor Dan I Lubman, Turning Point Alcohol & Drug Centre