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Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

One in five Canadian students in Grades 7 to 12 have consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol, which is linked to an increased risk of engaging in other problem behaviours, including heavy drinking, substance abuse and absence from school.

A study in the new Canadian Medical Association Journal Open, which officially began publication Thursday, warns that young people drinking energy drinks spiked with booze could be putting themselves at risk of developing long-term health problems.

Energy drinks, which contain high amounts of caffeine, have grown substantially in popularity in recent years, particularly among young people. Despite warnings of potential dangers, it's clear many young people are mixing energy drinks with alcohol, which could lead to serious consequences.

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Of chief concern is that caffeine can mask the effects of alcohol, leading people to underestimate their level of intoxication. Excess caffeine can also increase "the perceived rewarding aspects of drinking," according to the study. People who combine energy drinks and alcohol are more likely to drive while impaired, consume higher amounts of alcohol at a sitting, suffer injury while intoxicated or develop an alcohol dependence, the authors say.

Researchers used data on more than 36,000 Canadian students in Grades 7 to 12 from a survey that asked about their consumption of substances including alcohol, tobacco, drugs and energy drinks.

They found that 20 per cent of students questioned had mixed energy drinks and alcohol in the previous year. The average for some groups was higher. More than 33 per cent of aboriginal students had combined energy drinks and alcohol in the previous year, the study found, while 25 per cent of black students had mixed the two. Among the provinces, students in British Columbia and Nova Scotia had highest rates of energy drink and alcohol consumption, at 25.8 and 25.6 per cent, respectively.

The study pointed out the students who were least likely to mix energy drinks and alcohol were those who reported feeling more connected to their school and who had an academic average of 70 per cent or higher.

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