Wild Buzz and SoBe No Fear are described as energy drinks containing ingredients such as taurine, B vitamins, various juices and caffeine. The other two beverages are "premium malt beverages" with caffeine, ginseng, guarana and other natural flavors.
All four are packaged in 16-ounce, predominately silver cans that are the exact same shape. Though the alcohol beverages have the amount of alcohol per volume printed on the cans and the non-alcohol drinks provide nutritional facts, it may be easy to confuse them, especially for anyone not familiar with the products.
"My No. 1 concern is awareness," said Lex Ann Roach, coordinator of Project Extra Mile, an underage drinking prevention organization.
She wants retailers to be aware of the differences when they are stocking their shelves and selling the drinks. She wants parents to know what their children are drinking, and she wants consumers to know what they are purchasing.
Roach believes the alcohol industry is "definitely seeking the crossover market" of energy beverage drinkers.
Amon Rappaport, a spokesman at the Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog, agrees. He wrote on the agency's Web site that the drinks are clearly being marketed to young people, both minors and those of age, with their sweet taste, which appeals to young drinkers acquiring a taste for alcohol.
"They blur the line between alcohol and energy drinks intentionally," Rappaport said. "Sweet, fruity, caffeinated drinks are booze on training wheels."
Roach said she isn't saying energy drinks, with or without alcohol are bad, she just wants people to be informed of the differences and the alcohol industry's impact on youth.
"There are at least 280 different energy drinks available," she said.
Labels on alcohol energy drinks are very inconsistent, she said. Alcohol isn't required to have nutritional labeling such as other food and beverage products. Most energy drinks that contain alcohol give the alcohol by volume on the label, probably so that those who want alcohol can find it, she said.
Roach said the alcohol energy drinks should also ring up as alcohol and, in stores with certain cash registers, the drinks will ring up only after the clerk has entered a birth date. When she purchased Tilt at a local grocery store recently, the clerk expressed surprise when the beverage rang up as alcohol.
"She said she thought alcohol energy drink was an oxymoron," Roach said.
Many medical experts have weighed in on that subject, addressing the health concerns of mixing caffeine, which is a stimulant, with alcohol, a depressant.
According to research from Brown University, the stimulant effects can mask a person's level of intoxication and prevent the drinker from realizing how much alcohol has actually been consumed.
Fatigue is one way the body tells someone they've had enough to drink and no matter how alert the caffeine makes the drinker feel, it doesn't change the blood alcohol concentration level, which would be the same if the alcohol was consumed without the caffeine, according to Brown.
In addition, both energy drinks and alcohol are dehydrating and the caffeine in energy drinks is a diuretic. Dehydration can hinder the body's ability to metabolize alcohol and will increase the toxicity, and the hangover, according to Brown University.
Many of the popular energy drink Web sites, as well as the cans themselves, warn that the products aren't thirst quenchers or sports drinks. Several warn against use by pregnant women and the 16-ounce Wild Buzz carries a warning to not consume more than 24 ounces of the beverage per 24-hour period.
One 8.3 ounce can of Red Bull has the caffeine equivalent of one cup of filtered coffee, according the product's Web site. The site encourages those who participate in sports to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
According to medicinenet.com, the makers of Red Bull don't recommend mixing the product with alcohol because of the stimulant versus depressant effect.
Mixing alcohol with energy drinks, such as vodka and Red Bull, is increasingly popular, said Heather Tjaden, prevention educator with the Central Nebraska Council on Alcoholism.