Patterns of consumption
For the purpose of analysis, one AED corresponds to one ‘standard drink’ of alcohol (10
g of ethanol) mixed with half a can of energy drink (125
mL, which is approximately 40
g of caffeine)
During interviews, AED consumers were asked to describe their patterns of AED consumption on a typical weekend session of alcohol use. Interestingly, participants were highly organised in their AED consumption practices and reported rarely altering this routine. This pattern had become a learned experience, one that they had established after a trial and error phase early in their use of AEDs. This learned routine was based on achieving maximum benefits from AEDs and avoiding or minimising negative consequences associated with their use.
The most commonly reported AED consumption practice (reported by seven of the ten participants) involved the consumption of between two and five AEDs over the course of the night. The evening typically began with one or two AEDs as an initial “booster”, followed by a period of non-AED alcohol use (such as beer, wine or spirit consumption). AEDs were consumed again, later in the evening (around midnight), when they began to feel tired or were drawn to a beverage with a sweeter taste. This later session usually involved drinking between two and five AEDs; the most popular combinations included “bombs” such as Jagerbombs (Jagermeister and energy drinks) and Skittlebombs (Cointreau and energy drinks), or mixers of vodka and energy drinks. For example:
“I’ll often have one [Jagerbomb] before I go out or when I first get to the pub, and then I’ll have maybe five or six beers before I start drinking spirits, such as bourbon and coke or vodka and some type of drink and mixed drinks, and then usually have one [vodka with energy drink] when I start to get tired, around midnight, or I start to get sick of other drinks. Because I like the taste of it so much, I’ll have it when I start to get sick of other things, but also when I start to get bored with the night or, or get tired. I find it gives me a pick-me-up and I can, I feel much more energetic and have more fun again” (Male 28
All seven of these participants noted that they restricted themselves to between two and five AEDs a night so that they would not have trouble sleeping or would not feel too unwell the following day.
There was some exception to this pattern as reported during participant interviews. Three participants reported drinking AEDs constantly throughout their session of alcohol use. One person reported consuming a Jagerbomb every time he went to the bar for a beer, and the final two participants were illicit drug users (methamphetamine, cocaine and/or ecstasy) and both reported mixing illicit stimulants with AEDs (either vodka and energy drinks or Skittlebombs). All three of these participants reported consuming between 8–12 AEDs on a typical night out. For example:
“Yeah pretty much every time we go out we have Jagerbombs and just to start the night off or whatever […] Usually just start off drinking beer to start the night and then probably move on to like a bourbon or a scotch or something like that. Maybe have a couple of lines of speed just before going out and then as we get out I probably get onto Red Bull and vodka, that’s pretty easy to drink and you can pretty much drink them all night and not feel sick” (Male, 29
Both of these patterns of use (drinking between two and five AEDs and drinking eight or more AEDs) were borne out by sessions of observation. For example:
I noticed two groups of people consuming AEDs throughout the night. A group of three women went to the bar twice (once at around 10
pm and then again at around midnight) and ordered Skittlebombs. They all went to the bar together and did the Skittlebombs while ordering other drinks. There was a separate group of men, however, who kept returning to the bar periodically for rounds of Jagerbombs. They seemed to be taking it in shouts. One person would go up to the bar and get a round of Jagerbombs and other drinks (beer and bourbon mixers) and then call his mates over to the bar to do the Jagerbombs. After half an hour or so another male from the same group would go up to the bar and they would do the same. They seemed to be racing each other to see who would finish first and the last person to finish would receive some jeering (Fieldnote, April).
Normalisation of AED
One of the main themes that arose from interviews and sessions of observation was that consuming AEDs is now a ‘normalised’ phenomenon. When asked how many of their friends consumed AEDs, interviewees reported between 50 to 100%. There were no venues attended during sessions of observation that did not sell AEDs. Interviewees confirmed this observation, noting that it is now possible to purchase AEDs in all licensed venues – whereas a number of years ago some venues did not sell energy drinks. It was suggested by one participant, that although she had been drinking AEDs for “nearly ten years”, she had only noticed the drink had become normalised in the past two or three years:
“It has become far more popular to use alcohol and energy drinks combined, definitely the last 18
months […] There seems to be more of energy drinks available and […] they are now essentially standard fare in most clubs. You go to some of the big clubs and the fridge is just essentially all energy drinks, the only thing you can see is energy drinks” (Female, 29
Interestingly, while it was expected that energy drinks would be more popular within certain types of licensed venue environments, such as nightclubs, participants noted that they enjoyed drinking AEDs at home (some always kept the fridge stocked with a six pack of energy drinks and a bottle of Cointreau or Jagermeister so they could have ‘bombs’ before they went out), at suburban pubs, and also in city bars and clubs. This finding was supported by sessions of observation, in which AEDs were as popular in pubs as they were in nightclubs.
Marketing and promotions
It was commonly regarded by participants that energy drinks and AEDs are marketed cleverly. All participants noted that energy drinks and AEDs are associated with fun and energy. In particular, the link to extreme sports was regularly reported. All ten participants reported that they were not aware of the recommendation that only two energy drinks should be consumed daily and had not seen any public messages discussing the potential harms of energy drinks or AEDs. Three participants said they would welcome more information about the potential harms of energy drinks and their co-consumption with alcohol.
The young people interviewed did not readily reflect on the advertising of energy drinks in combination with alcohol. More commonly, they reflected on brand identification, and even brand saturation. Red Bull was the brand of energy drink that was most commonly observed during sessions of observation. Red Bull branding was evident in almost all licensed venues, from posters, to bar towelling, to ice buckets and refrigerators. When asked about the marketing of energy drinks, all ten consumers reported that they noticed Red Bull imagery in most of the licensed venues they frequented. For example:
“Red Bull’s pretty much everywhere. Like all the fridges would have to have Red Bull in it and Red Bull signs all over it” (Female, 23
Whether this brand saturation is linked to brand preference was not explicitly investigated; however, seven of the ten participants interviewed identified Red Bull as their preferred energy drink (with two saying ‘V’ and one saying ‘Mother’). However, when asked which energy drink they preferred to consume with alcohol, all ten reported Red Bull. When asked their reasons for this, half the sample reported that they had become accustomed to the taste of Red Bull with alcohol given it was the brand most commonly sold in venues, and the other half stated that they believed Red Bull tasted “the best” with alcohol.
The other key element to this was that young people were extremely attracted to promotions on energy drinks and AEDs. While most consumers noted that licensed venues did not regularly offer discounted AEDs, two consumers reported that “Uni bars” and bars within backpacker accommodation were the two types of venues where you could commonly find discounted AEDs, from between $5 and $7 (as opposed to between $11 and $15 in other venues). Others commented that although they often did not see cheap or discounted AEDs, many licensed venues have signs or blackboards listing all the types of ‘bombs’ you can buy, and this often encouraged the impromptu consumption of a Jagerbomb or Skittlebomb, or equivalent. For example:
“If you see a sign then, yeah, you start thinking about it harder […] If you’re in the bar and you see a sign you kind of know you’re going to do one later” (Male, 24
Motivations for AED consumption
Consumers of AEDs were asked to identify their primary motivation for consuming AEDs, and five main benefits of the beverage combination were reported: wakefulness and energy; taste; counteracting the drowsy effects of alcohol; facilitating alcohol intoxication, and social bonding.
All ten consumers interviewed noted that wakefulness and increased energy was the primary benefit of consuming AEDs. For example:
“I’ve found on a Friday you work so you’re already tired, so you want something to pick yourself up […] that’s one of the reasons why I like to have them on Friday because you are half asleep” (Male, 24
“I’m getting older, so I definitely want to try and keep up with the crowd, like you can’t stay out as long as you used to, so I think it’s just an easy option” (Female, 29
Seven interviewees commented that one of the reasons they consumed AEDs was because they enjoyed the taste of them. It was particularly common for participants to report switching to vodka AEDs after a period of drinking beer or wine for a sweeter, more palatable taste. Participants who wanted to increase their alcohol intoxication by consuming shots also noted that they selected Jagerbombs because they were more palatable than other shots, such as tequila.
Five participants noted that AEDs were beneficial because the energy drink effectively counteracted the effects of the alcohol. When discussing this, participants drew a distinction between drowsy drunkenness and wakeful drunkenness; for example:
“I’ve just got a lot more energy whilst I’m drunk [when consuming AED]. You’re not slurring or a lethargic drunk; you’re an energetic, happy drunk” (Male, 24
“You’re slightly more energetic and chatty. You get to be less of, like, an inebriated drunk” (Male, 21
While some participants noted that AEDs counteracted the effects of alcohol, four participants suggested that AEDs facilitated intoxication over just drinking alcohol alone. These participants indicated that energy drinks enabled the faster consumption of alcohol. This comment was particularly in relation to ‘Jagerbombs’ and ‘Skittlebombs’ (and other types of ‘bombs’) because these drinks are ‘chugged’ or ‘skolled’, and so consuming these drinks enabled participants to reach intoxication at a faster pace. Participants also noted that when they consumed a ‘bomb’ they also bought a ‘chaser’ (such as a beer), so they were drinking more drinks at a faster pace. The following comment was made by a participant after she was asked what differentiates a night out when drinking AEDs from a night without energy drinks:
“I just get really drunk [when I consume AEDs]. Because I think it like, it makes, like, you excited, and then you drink more as well. I find if I have them, like I start on them, then I drink more of other drinks as well. Does that make sense? So, like, you’re more, like if I just start like, chilled, I’ll just like chill on my drink for the night, but if I start like with something hypo then it’ll just make me skoll the rest of my drinks” (Female, 23
The following fieldnote also highlights this theme:
"I noticed three males who appeared to be playing drinking games with each other. I overheard a conversation between them and a female at the bar, and it appeared they had been drinking all day at the horse races. I noticed at one point they were skolling Jagerbombs, and they all went in a shout for a round of Jagerbombs straight after one another (three shouts in a row). They were particularly rowdy and seemed to be having a good time. Their energy seemed to really pick up after consuming these Jagerbombs and they danced and laughed for a while. Two hours later however, the three men were preparing to leave the bar. I heard one of their female friends (possibly a girlfriend) chastising one of the males for ending their night early because he was too drunk. I heard the men talking about desperately needing to find food before going home (Fieldnote, March).
The fifth and final benefit reported was the social aspect of consuming AEDs. Participants noted that the consumption of ‘bombs’ facilitated social interaction and humour by virtue of attending the bar together in a group, dropping the shot of liquor into an energy drink and skolling, seeing who could finish first. The following fieldnote supports this theme:
"In the corner of the bar there was a small taped off section reserved for a private function. At midnight the small group were preparing to leave and one male ordered approximately fifteen Jagerbombs. He called everyone in the group over to do the Jagerbomb – it was his shout. He yelled out that nobody was allowed to leave until they’d had one. The group all consumed their Jagerbomb at the same time on the count of ‘three’, and everyone cheered when they had finished (Fieldnote, June)."
One participant commented:
“It’s the interaction with everybody else. I think that’s where you get sucked in the most. I’ve got a friend that loves the shots and then all of a sudden you know, you’re all part, not like a team, but you’re all part of a group” (Female, 29
Energy drinks as substitution for illicit stimulants
One theme that came up regularly among consumers was that energy drinks were often used in place of illicit stimulants, such as methamphetamine or cocaine. This is not to say that the effects of energy drinks were described as the same as illicit stimulants – because participants pointed out that energy drinks were not associated with the ‘rush’ and ‘buzz’ of illicit stimulants – but rather that energy drinks and illicit stimulants share some properties, such as wakefulness and counteracting the drowsy effects of alcohol. For example, the following observation:
"While at the bar, I spoke with Female A who told me that she’d had a big weekend the one before on the “Red Bulls”. She said that she went out with a big group of people on Saturday night who were smoking “pipes” [of methamphetamine] before they went out and she was “off the speed” at the moment, so had resisted, but managed to stay awake all night drinking energy drinks instead, and had a really good night. Her friend, Female B, overheard us and told me that she used to use cocaine and speed but doesn’t anymore, so energy drinks are her substitute when she goes to bars. She said energy drinks can make her feel “speedy” (Fieldnote, April 2011)."
In addition, three participants commented that they were non-drug users, but that most of their social group consumed illicit stimulants. All three of these participants reported mixing energy drinks with alcohol in an attempt to stay out longer with their drug-using friends. For example:
"Interviewer: “Have you ever used illicit stimulants”?
"Participant: “No, that’s why I sort of drink energy drinks to keep up with people that are”.
"Interviewer: “That are using stimulants”?
"Participant: “Yeah, otherwise I can’t keep up” (Female, 27
Negative consequences of AED use
Participants were also asked to describe any negative outcomes that they had experienced as a result of consuming AEDs, and there were three main harms that participants reported: sleep disturbance, worse hangovers and increased heart rate.
The main problem associated with AEDs, as noted by seven of the ten participants, was that after consuming AEDs it was common for them to fall asleep when they arrived home from a licensed venue, but would then wake up after a number of hours (between one and six) and not be able to get back to sleep. For example:
“Even if I’ve had a heap of them I fall asleep straight away when I get home, but four or five hours later I wake up and there’s just no getting back to sleep. You just, your body feels like it’s dead and hung over and you don’t want to get out of bed and you don’t want to move, but your mind just won’t let you sleep” (Male, 28
It is interesting to note that no participants observed having trouble sleeping upon first arriving home, but only that they had trouble staying asleep. It may be that heavy alcohol intake promotes sleep induction, but the stimulant effects of caffeine take over as the alcohol is metabolised.
Six of the ten participants commented that they felt more “hungover” and unwell the day following an evening of AED use. For example:
“I don’t usually get hangovers, like I don’t get headachy or feel nauseous or anything, but if I’ve had too many energy drinks I just feel terrible and paranoid and, anxious I think it is, cause I just, I don’t know, it’s something, I don’t know what it does, it just makes you feel… weird” (Male, 19
Two participants suggested this was likely to be associated with dehydration, acknowledging that both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics.
The final commonly noted concern was the experience of “racing heart”, “heart palpitations”, “shakiness” and “twitching” either later in the night, after sleeping for a few hours or during the following day. Five participants reported these effects. For example:
“Ah, oh there was one, one night when me and a mate went out and I think we worked out we’d spent close to $200, $250, on vodka and Red Bulls and Jagerbombs that night. We got home at, we didn’t get home til seven or eight o’clock um… my mate slept in another room and I think I’d only been asleep for an hour and I started having panic attacks and my heart was racing and I just, I couldn’t work it, I just felt like I was going to die. And eventually it wore off but it was, it felt horrible and my mate was the same. We just drank way too many of them. It just, you couldn’t get comfortable, you were just wriggling around, heart racing, mind going a thousand miles an hour” (Male, 24