06 Jun, 2012 Last updated: 30 Mar, 2015

By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO

Opinion piece by Jerril Rechter, CEO, VicHealth - first published in the National Times, 6 June, 2012.

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter

They have been dubbed ‘blackout in a can’ for their disturbing ability to erase the events of the night before. They have killed and hospitalised young people worldwide. And are directly linked to heart problems, uncharacteristic erratic behaviour, violence and drink driving.

So why do alcohol companies continue to manufacture high potency alcopops with added caffeine that are specifically marketed to appeal to our riskiest drinkers: young people? 

Alcoholic energy drinks must be banned. And Victoria should lead the charge.

These irresponsible and dangerous products have already caused deaths in America and sadly, now, are suspect number one in the death of Victorian teenager Sara Milosevic.

These drinks appeal to Generation Y because they are potent, mask the taste and sleepy effects of alcohol and deliver a ‘pick me up’ feeling.

Young people are slamming up to 10 of these drinks a night, vastly increasing their risk of hurting themselves, or someone else. The Age was right to question the manufacturers about just why there is a warning for children on their products.

In December last year, four states in America pulled alcoholic energy drinks from the shelves. In April last year, the West Australian government banned the sale of alcohol mixed with energy drinks in clubs after midnight.

In 2008, Fosters and Lion Nathan showed corporate responsibility by discontinuing their lines of alcoholic energy drinks. Unfortunately, the other companies did not follow their lead.

Although the most popular energy drinks contain the equivalent of an average cup of coffee, combining a stimulant with alcohol is really dangerous and can ‘freak out’ the nervous system.

These drinks dissolve your ability to think straight and act safely. You feel you’re relatively sober when you’re actually very drunk. 

Studies have shown that it’s common for young people to continue drinking alcoholic energy drinks well after they would usually have called it a night, amplifying the normal risks associated with drinking.

The ‘wide awake drunk’ feeling can create a false impression of being in control, which can lead to an increased risk of drink driving and other risk-taking behaviour and physical injury.

Alcoholic energy drinks have also been linked with disturbed heart rhythms, serious dehydration, uncharacteristic behaviour and violence. 

While concerns about alcohol and young people are not new, the difference now is that the market has changed, not the natural curiosity of teens to experiment with booze.

The drinks teens opt for today are more alcoholic, they are aggressively marketed, widely available and cleverly designed to mask the taste of alcohol. And now they include a stimulant ingredient designed to encourage the drinker to consume more.

The Milosevics are seeking answers about why their daughter died. There is a very simple way to prevent further tragedy. Ban these drinks altogether.

- Jerril