If you are among the large percentage of young adults regularly consuming energy drinks, then you may be more susceptible later to anxiety, depression and addictive behavior such as alcohol and drug abuse. Since 1997, public opinion on energy drinks of all kinds has swung with dramatic swiftness from harmless, mild stimulant to lethal, unregulated drug.
Energy Drink Popularity
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported in 2013 that 34% to 51% of young adults and 31% of adolescents regularly consume energy drinks. The energy drinks principally contain caffeine and sugar, both of which are psychoactive and affect the brain. The caffeine consumed on average ranged from 60 mg to 70 mg daily, and as much as 700 mg in some cases. 85 mg corresponds to the amount of caffeine in an 8-oz cup of brewed coffee or two 12-oz cans of soda.
Energy Drinks and Young Adults and Teens
Marketing and advertising of energy drinks aggressively target teens and young adults. The packaging designs and colors, drink names such as “Full Throttle” and “Rockstar” appeal strongly to teenage boys as do associations with extreme sports in energy drink ads. A recent paper (2014) notes that among young adults, consumption of energy drinks is associated with increased use of alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. “In young adults, energy drinks have been linked to behavioral patterns of ‘sensation-seeking or risk orientation.’ “
Effect on maturing brain
The danger to young adults and adolescents lies in the fact that the brain is still developing and maturing up to the age of 25 and therefore is more susceptible to the effects of psychoactive substances. The young brain can become accustomed to the presence of caffeine and sugar, and desensitized to normal avenues of pleasure and reward; it will later tend toward depression without caffeine and sugar. Body weight is a factor as well; a young person weighing 100 lbs will be affected much more than an adult weighing 200 lbs when both consume the same dose.
Energy Drink Ingredients
Caffeine is an ingredient in many other foods, drinks, and even medications so that the dosage taken into the body can be greater than realized. Because energy drinks also contain substances like guarana, taurine, inositol, ginseng, and kola nut, they are considered dietary supplements rather than caffeinated beverages that are limited to 71-mg of caffeine per 12-oz drink. The guarana and kola nuts contain caffeine, but since caffeine is not a nutrient, the total amount in energy drinks need not be listed. Additionally, taurine and inositol have been used in anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication, and their use in energy drinks can also interfere with medications such as SSRI and those treating AHDH.
Consuming just 100-mg of caffeine daily can lead to caffeine addiction. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include:
- muscle pain
- lack of concentration
- flu-like symptoms and insomnia.
In a recent study of college sophomores, going without caffeine for half a day was associated with greater sleepiness, lower mental alertness, and poorer performance when testing memory and reaction time. An energy drink addict might think the drink improves mood and performance and decreases fatigue, but in fact, it simply alleviates the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. The daily caffeine dosage is needed just to feel “normal” levels of energy. As the body becomes habituated to the dosage, its effect diminishes, and more needs to be consumed for the same effect. This can lead to consuming progressively larger doses or to a readiness to seek out stronger substances.
Alcohol and Energy Drinks
A dangerous situation exists in alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AMED). In 2010, the US Food and Drug Administration declared drinks containing both caffeine and alcohol were unsafe because the caffeine obscured “some of the sensory cues individuals might normally rely on to determine their level of intoxication.” The alcohol has the same effect as in intoxication – the regulatory function of the mind is depressed, and judgment becomes sloppy and risky behavior increases, leading to over consuming the potent mix.
A 2010 study involved 1097 fourth-year university students energy drinks users. Frequent users took energy drinks more than once a week and drank alcohol 141.6 days a year on average, consuming 6.15 alcoholic drinks per session, or a total of 870.84 drinks. Moderate energy drink users drank alcohol 103.1 days, consuming 4.64 alcoholic drinks per session for an average yearly total of 478.384 drinks.
A 2014 study found that energy drinks may be a gateway drug to smoking, alcohol and drug use for the nearly one-third of American teenagers that drink highly caffeinated energy drinks. And with as much as 56% of college students surveyed reporting mixing alcohol and energy drinks, AMED over-consumption gives reason for energy drinks to be regarded as a “gateway” drug to alcohol and drug overdose.
If you are experiencing symptoms of energy drink addiction. It would be wise to seek inpatient treatment. There are many treatment centers dedicated to addictions of all types. In one typical inpatient center “patients are monitored constantly, both physically and mentally while keeping to a healthy dose of individual counseling, group therapy, team activities and chores. As residents succeed within the program, they are provided with freedoms, responsibilities, and praise. Because inpatient programs work to remove their residents from substance abuse triggers and reminders, many find the option a solid step forward on the road to sobriety.”