PORTLAND, Ore. (CBS Seattle) – People who mix energy drinks with alcohol may be more likely to drive drunk that those who drink only alcohol, a new study finds.

Researchers surveyed 355 college students.  Of those who participated, 281 said they drank alcohol within the last month; and, out of those, 107 said they drink alcohol and energy drinks together.

Researchers looked at the combined users and found that 57 percent said they had driven when they knew they were beyond the legal limit, while 44 percent of those who only drank alcohol said they drove when they knew they were drunk.

“From a physiological standpoint, consuming energy drinks does change the brain chemistry to make you more confident,” Conrad L. Woolsey from the University of Western States, and the study’s author, told Live Science.

The blood alcohol legal limit in Oregon is 0.08.  Researchers found that 53 percent of the combined users said they had driven when they knew they were at or above that limit, while 38 percent of alcohol-only users said they did.

Furthermore, 56 percent of combined users said they had been a passenger in a car whose driver was over the legal limit while 35 percent of alcohol-only users have been.

Not only do combined users say they drink alcohol on more days than the alcohol-only users, they also said they got drunk and binge drank more frequently.

The researchers did not prove that energy drinks are the cause of higher-risk behavior.  “People who mix energy drinks with alcohol in the first place might be risk-takers in general,” Woolsey told Live Science.

Woolsey said that energy drinks can cause the chemistry in the brain to change, which may increase levels of dopamine, making people feel like they are more capable of certain actions.

He went on to say that even though alcohol also increases the release of dopamine, it also makes a person feel less capable and more tired.

Woolsey went on to say that some ingredients in energy drinks can make people get drunk faster, such as taurine.  When taurine is mixed with alcohol, it has an anti-anxiety effect and calms the user’s heart rate.

“In a way, energy drinks are already a mixture of stimulants and anti-anxiety type agents,” he told Live Science.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

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