Rethink Your Drinks

Photo Illustration by  Alex Vera/The Minaret
Photo Illustration by Alex Vera/The Minaret

Uncovering the truth behind the hype of mixing alcohol and energy drinks

You walk into the weekend hotspot and hear Kings of Leon’s “Someone Like You” playing loudly above the roar of the college kids clustered around the bar. The next thing that catches your attention is the glowing fridge behind the bar, giving off a crisp, clean light, and in the halo you see rows of silver, red and blue cans of Red Bull. You know what you’re drinking tonight.

Across Tampa, a young man yells excitedly as he enters a house full of USF students: “I brought the goods!” As he makes his way into the living room, it becomes apparent that what he means by “goods” is an eight-pack of Red Bull and a handle of vodka.

Like young people everywhere, UT students are mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

Besides the most popular combination, Red Bull with vodka, they’re downing Jägerbomb, O bombs, Cherry Bombs (see sidebar for details)—it’s bombs away.

In a survey for The Minaret, 55 percent of the UT respondents said they combined the two drinks sometimes or frequently. Another 25 percent said they’d tried energy drinks and alcohol. Seventy-five percent preferred mixing the two as a drink, rather than downing them as a shot followed by a chaser.

At Splitsville in Channelside, bartender Jenn confirmed that these drinks are popular. “Definitely. They’re our top selling drinks.”

“Pretty much everyone orders them,” said Lezly Norden, a bartender at The Retreat. “By far the most popular is the Jägerbomb.”

Many bars even offer alcohol and energy drink mixes as specials. The Retreat offered $5 vodka/Red Bulls recently, which Norden called “speedballs.” They are also known as “Red Bull Wings.”

What’s the appeal?

Depends on who you ask. Most said they just liked the taste (63 percent). Kate Harvey, a UT senior, is one of them, but she also thinks that vodka mixed with sugar-free Red Bull is a lighter, lower-calorie way to drink.

“It’s better for you than most beers out there,’’ she said. Fifty-eight percent of the survey respondents (who skewed heavily female) said they drank the sugar-free versions as well, but only seven percent said they drank it to take in fewer calories.

“It’s definitely on campus,” said Gina Firth, UT’s Associate Dean of Students, adding that energy drinks are heavily marketed to young people.

Bartenders say they serve both men and women different variations of alcohol and energy drinks. Men seem to order more shots with the energy chasers while women prefer mixing them.

“Actually, a lot of guys order them,” said Jenn. “I see [it happen] when they’re trying to pick up girls. They usually order a round of bombs, like cherry bombs, grape bombs, pomegranate bombs.”

Here’s the ironic part: while roughly 35 percent of UT students drink this combo because they think it keeps them more alert, almost as many—29 percent—say they like that it seems to make them more drunk faster.

Donald, a young UT alumnus who wished to withhold his last name, said at Macdinton’s: “I drink Red Bull and vodka because it keeps me awake longer. Not so I can drink more, but just so I can stay out late—you know, enjoy the night.’’

Speaking for the get-drunk-faster crowd, Amanda Miller, a northern college senior, said, “I drink Red Bull and vodka if I want to puke out my nose and wake up in the bushes.’’

Who’s right? UT professors Kim Curry and Michael Stasio recently did a study in which one group of students drank an alcohol/energy drink mix. “Students believe that the caffeine in energy drinks counteracts the sedative and other effects of alcohol,’’ Stasio said, “and thus makes it safer to drive a car, for instance.’’

“People have the logic that one will balance out the other,’’ Curry added.

Their conclusions? “Caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol but it doesn’t mitigate them,” Curry said. “There are still two elements affecting the body. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol does not [lower] the blood alcohol level.”

They found that the students’ visual perceptions and language skills were impaired. That suggests that “activities like driving remain risky,” said Stasio. “In other words, mixing Red Bull and vodka won’t make you sober.”

When asked about this trend, Jonathan Logan, a team representative for Consumer Affairs for Red Bull said that “the way people consume it is up to their discretion.” He added, “I know the ingredients are pharmaceutical grade.”

Energy drinks contain taurine, “which helps absorb whatever you’re consuming faster,” said Firth. “So, the caffeine and alcohol in the drinks ends up being absorbed quicker. The heavy stimulant and depressant combination initially makes you feel more awake or alert, but it severely dehydrates the body.”

So, the next time you walk into that weekend hotspot, will you rethink your drink?

Melissa Assencoa, a UT senior will. “I always drink Red Bull and vodka,” she said. “I never realized it was so bad for you. Wow, I’ll  have to be more careful.”

What’s in a Name?

Red Bull and vodka—also known as a speedball, or Red Bull Wings—is by far the most popular alcohol/energy drink mix. The Jägerbomb—a shot of Jägermeister dropped into a glass of Red Bull—is another favorite.

But you know all that. Here are some less known—and even more extreme—variations on this cocktail concoction, from

Electric Screwdriver
2 oz. Vodka, 6 oz. Amp Energy Drink, 6 oz. Orange Juice

The All-Nighter
1/2 oz. Rum, raspberry, 1/2 oz. Sour Apple Pucker, 1 1/2 oz. Red Bull, 3/4 oz. pomegranate Juice

1 shot Gin, 2 oz. Tequila, white, 1 oz. Triple Sec, 6 oz. 7-up, 2 oz. Rockstar, 3 cubes Ice

1, 2, 3, Floor (for a crowd)
1 bottle Champagne, 1 shot Hpnotiq, 8 shots Vodka, 2 cans Red Bull, 3 handfuls ice

2 shots Tuaca, 1/2 can Energy Drink (Crunk)

More from

Red Bull, Tequila and Margarita mix

Red Bull, Gin, OJ and Cranberry juice

Bull’s Eye
Red Bull, Stoli Raspberry & Chambord

Red Bull, Champagne and OJ

Bull Rider
Red Bull, Jack Daniels & Lemonade


Red Bull, Midori and Vodka

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