Rum and Coke, Irish coffee, Jagerbombs — all of these common drinks combine caffeinated beverages with alcohol. But is it actually safe to mix the two?

The short answer is that mixing caffeine and alcohol generally isn’t recommended, but there are a few factors to keep in mind. Read on to learn more about the effects of mixing caffeine and alcohol.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel energetic and alert. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant that can make you feel sleepy or less alert than usual.

When you mix a stimulant with a depressant, the stimulant can mask the depressant’s effects. In other words, combining caffeine and alcohol may mask some of the alcohol’s depressant effects. You might feel more alert and energetic than you normally would while drinking.

But, won’t that sober me up?

No. You might feel a bit more alert if you drink some caffeine, but it won’t have any effect on your blood alcohol level or the way your body clears alcohol from your system.

When you aren’t feeling alcohol’s full effects, you have a higher risk of drinking more than you usually would. In turn, this increases your risk of other things, including driving while intoxicated, alcohol poisoning, or injury.

Energy drinks are highly caffeinated beverages, such as Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar. On top of caffeine, these drinks often contain additional stimulants as well as high levels of sugar.

The amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies and depends on the individual product. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the caffeine content of energy drinks can range between 40 and 250 milligrams (mg) per 8 ounces.

For reference, the same amount of brewed coffee has between 95 and 165 mg caffeine. It’s also important to note that many energy drinks come in 16-ounce cans, so the actual amount of caffeine in one energy drink can range from 80 to 500 mg.

In recent years, experts have looked more closely at the effects of mixing energy drinks with caffeine. Some findings link mixing the two with an increased risk of injury and an increased likelihood to binge drink.

Caffeinated alcoholic beverages

In the early 2000s, some companies began adding caffeine and other stimulants to their alcoholic beverages, such as Four Loko and Joose. In addition to high levels of caffeine, these drinks also had a higher alcohol content than beer.

In 2010, the FDA released a warning to four companies producing these beverages, saying that the caffeine in the drinks was an unsafe food additive. In response to this statement, the companies removed caffeine and other stimulants from these products.

While combining alcohol and caffeine is never recommended, some combinations of the two may be less risky than others. Remember, the main issue is that caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol, leading you to drink more than you usually would.

But what about drinks that aren’t quite as caffeinated as energy drinks? The risk is still there, but it’s not quite as high.

For context, a rum and Coke made with one shot of rum contains about 15-20 mg of caffeine. Meanwhile, a Red Bull with one shot of vodka could contain between 40 to 80 mg of caffeine.

While you should generally avoid combining alcohol and caffeine, having an occasional Irish coffee won’t harm you. Just be sure to consume these types of drinks in moderation and to be aware of not only the alcohol content, but also the potential caffeine content.

What about having a cup of coffee or tea an hour or two before hitting the bar? Caffeine can stay in your system for five to six hours, though it slowly decreases over time.

If you consume caffeine within a few hours of drinking alcohol, you still run the risk of not feeling the full effects of the alcohol you consume.

However, you should also keep in mind that the caffeine content of things like coffee and tea can vary greatly depending on how they’re prepared.

Drinking 16 ounces of cold-brew coffee right before a bar crawl isn’t a good idea, but an 8-ounce cup of green tea likely won’t have too much of an effect.

Alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics, meaning they make you urinate more. As a result, dehydration can be a concern when mixing caffeine and alcohol.

Some dehydration symptoms to look out for include:

  • feeling thirsty
  • having a dry mouth
  • passing dark urine
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded

Still, the main thing to watch for is drinking too much, which can lead to a nasty hangover at best and alcohol poisoning at worst.

Recognizing alcohol poisoning

Some alcohol poisoning symptoms to be aware of are:

  • feeling confused or disoriented
  • severe loss of coordination
  • being conscious but not responsive
  • vomiting
  • irregular breathing (more than 10 seconds pass between breaths)
  • slowed breathing (less than eight breaths in a minute)
  • slowed heart rate
  • clammy or pale skin
  • difficulty staying conscious
  • passing out and being difficult to wake up
  • seizures

Alcohol poisoning is always an emergency and needs to be treated in a hospital. You should always seek emergency medical care if you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning.

Caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol, making you feel more alert or capable than you actually are. This can lead to the risk of consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in dangerous behaviors.

Overall, it’s best to avoid mixing alcohol and caffeine. But if you do indulge in an occasional rum and Coke or like to perk up with a cup of coffee before going out, make sure you keep an eye on how much alcohol you drink.