Caffeinated alcoholic beverage (CAB) consumption is a rapidly growing phenomenon among young adults and is associated with a variety of health-risk behaviors. The current study examined whether either caffeinated alcohol or the expectation of receiving caffeinated alcohol altered affective, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes hypothesized to contribute to risk behavior. Young adult social drinkers (N = 146) participated in a single session where they received alcohol (peak Breath Alcohol Content = .088 g/dL, SD = .019; equivalent to about four standard drinks) and were randomly assigned to one of four further conditions: 1) no caffeine, no caffeine expectancy, 2) caffeine and caffeine expectancy, 3) no caffeine but caffeine expectancy, 4) caffeine but no caffeine expectancy. Participants' habitual CAB consumption was positively correlated with measures of impulsivity and risky behavior, independently of study drugs. Administration of caffeine (mean dose = 220 mg, SD = 38; equivalent to about 2.75 Red Bulls) in the study reduced subjective ratings of intoxication and reversed the decrease in desire to continue drinking, regardless of expectancy. Caffeine also reduced the effect of alcohol on inhibitory reaction time (RT) (faster incorrect responses). Participants not expecting caffeine were less attentive after alcohol, whereas participants expecting caffeine were not, regardless of caffeine administration. Alcohol decreased response accuracy in all participants except those who both expected and received caffeine. Findings suggest that CABs may elevate risk for continued drinking by reducing perceived intoxication, and by maintaining the desire to continue drinking. Simply expecting to consume caffeine may reduce the effects of alcohol on inattention, and either expecting or consuming caffeine may protect against other alcohol-related performance decrements. Caffeine, when combined with alcohol, has both beneficial and detrimental effects on mechanisms known to contribute to risky behavior.
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