Caffeinated alcohol behind teen's death

Experts warn against the growing trend of mixing alcohol and energy drinks

A cocktail of alcohol and energy drinks mixed according to an online recipe appears to be behind the death of a teenage girl in Sydney this week.

Fifteen-year-old Paris Kamper was found unconscious in her home on Friday night and rushed to Westmead Children's Hospital, where her blood alcohol content was recorded at a lethal .40, according to media reports.

She died three days later.

Commenting on the case, Dr David Caldicott, an emergency consultant and senior clinical lecturer in medicine at the Australian National University, says the combination of alcohol and caffeine, particularly in uninitiated drinkers, is particularly dangerous.

He points to several studies that have demonstrated how caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol-induced fatigue, allowing consumers to “drink more alcohol, for longer, with ever-increasing rates of disinhibition and risk of poisoning from the alcohol moiety”.

In particular, research conducted at the same university by Dr Rebecca McKetin shows that caffeinated alcoholic beverages appear to increase the desire to drink more alcohol, often described as ‘the priming effect’.

Dr Caldicott notes that Australia has some of the strictest laws regarding energy drinks in the world, but he says the simple addition of alcohol seems to have rendered them largely invisible to scrutiny.

The US banned the sale of premixed or ready-to-drink caffeinated alcoholic drinks in 2010, he adds.

Associate Professor Melissa Norberg, a behavioural scientist at Macquarie University, says that, although fewer adolescents are drinking alcohol these days, when they do drink, they are likely to choose a caffeinated alcoholic beverage.

Espresso martinis, rum and cokes, vodka Red Bulls and Jagerbombs are common examples, she says.