Globally, the energy drink market is now worth more than $27 billion, which represents a 620 percent increase since 1999. In the United States, these products are particularly popular, with 5,000 percent sales growth in the same period. That aside, if you like to consume energy drinks before you get behind the wheel, you could find yourself facing a DUI charge. Learn how energy drinks affect your body, and find out why these effects could spell trouble for drivers.
How energy drinks work
Energy drinks contain large amounts of chemical stimulants like caffeine and guarana. In many cases, the stimulant content of these drinks is much higher than beverages like coffee and cola. For example, a 16-ounce can of energy drink will often contain around 170 milligrams of caffeine, which is about the same as two or three cups of coffee.
Your digestive system quickly allows your body to absorb the caffeine from an energy drink. Your bloodstream then quickly carries the drug around your body, where the chemical stimulates your brain and nervous system, giving you a sudden boost of energy and alertness. Studies show that a 200mg dose of caffeine can make you feel twice as alert.
Unsurprisingly, these drinks are particularly popular with students, who use these short-term caffeine boosts to get through long days of study and concentration. Many drivers also use energy drinks to help them stay alert behind the wheel, but these caffeine-rich beverages can cause their own problems.
Energy drinks and breathalyzer results
Evidence suggests that the chemical content of some energy drinks could interfere with the results of a roadside breath test. A study published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology tested several energy drinks to find out if the beverage contained any alcohol. 88.9 percent of the drinks tested showed low concentrations of ethanol.
Test subjects than drank these beverages and completed a breathalyzer test. 40.7 percent of the tests gave a positive result for alcohol when they took the test within a minute of drinking the product. After at least fifteen minutes, none of the tests showed any trace of alcohol.
While these results show that a 15-minute window can avoid this problem, some groups have complained that this problem could influence the accuracy of an ignition interlock. These devices are mandatory in some states for drivers found guilty on a DUI charge, and users face stiff penalties if they record a positive test for alcohol. In these cases, an energy drink could cause a problem if you have to use an interlock device.
What's more, the problems with energy drinks don't end there.
Energy drinks and alcohol
A lot of people like to drink energy drinks mixed with alcohol. This combination may seem harmless, but the resulting cocktail can create problems.
The stimulant in an energy drink can mask the feeling of intoxication you normally get from alcohol. Many people know when they have had too much to drink because of the way they feel, but energy drinks can make you feel alert and capable. As such, experts worry that many young drivers lull themselves into a false sense of security and drive under the influence because of energy drinks.
A 2014 study also found that students who mixed energy drinks with alcohol were more likely to binge drink. This group generally drank more often than people who stuck to alcohol and these students admitted that they drove under the influence more often than their alcohol-only peers. Researchers believe that energy drinks increase the brain's dopamine levels, making you more likely to take risks.
How the 20-minute window rule could help
An attorney can help you defend a DUI charge that relates to an energy drink. While an energy drink may only show a small amount of alcohol in your blood, the test result could still push you over the legal limit.
In many cases, a lawyer can help you avoid a DUI charge because a traffic officer fails to follow the right procedure. Officers must observe you for twenty minutes before carrying out a breathalyzer test, so they can make sure you didn't do anything that would distort the reading. For example, a burp can create residual alcohol in your mouth, leading to an inaccurate blood alcohol reading.
The 20-minute rule can help you avoid charges that relate to an energy drink. The alcoholic effect of an energy drink wears off after 15 minutes, so an officer who relies on a reading within a shorter window may not have followed the rules. Talk to your attorney for more advice.
Energy drinks help thousands of Americans get a short burst of energy, but these beverages aren't always a good choice for drivers. Realistically, if you plan to get behind the wheel, it's a good idea to learn more and avoid energy drinks altogether.