Energy Drinks Explained
Since the 1990s there has been an explosion in the global market for energy drinks: drinks containing various stimulants – typically caffeine – and, frequently, high quantities of sugar, marketed as providing consumers with extra levels of mental and physical stimulation. The world energy drink market is estimated to reach over $70 billion by 2024, and energy drinks are now a mainstay of fridges and shelves in shops around the UK. However, this proliferation of energy drinks has had a darker side, in the form of the development of countless cases of energy drink addiction, often resulting in very serious physical and mental health issues.
Caffeine-Based Energy Drink Brands
Thanks to the aforementioned proliferation of energy drinks worldwide over the last three decades, there are now countless energy drink brands sold around the globe. Some of the most prominent include:
- 5-Hour Energy
- AMP Energy
- Beaver Buzz
- Blue Charge
- Bomb Energy Drink
- Coca-Cola Blak
- Euro Shopper
- Full Throttle
- G Fuel
- Hell Energy
- Hype Energy
- Irn-Bru 32
- Jolt Cola
- Kruidvat Power Booster
- Lift Plus
- Liquid X
- Lucozade Sport
- Mountain Dew
- No Fear
- Pepsi Max
- Paper Boat
- Red Bull
- Red Rooster
- Rip It
- Shark Energy
- Sting Energy
- Street King
- Tab Energy
- Venom Energy
Caffeine and other Stimulant Compounds used in Energy Drinks
Caffeine is defined as a central nervous system stimulant in the methylxanthine class, with the formula C8H10N4O2. Caffeine works in several ways, most notably by blocking the action of the neuromodulator adenosine, thus preventing the onset of drowsiness. It is the most frequently consume psychiatric drug in the world; nevertheless, as noted above it is known to be addictive.
Along with caffeine, energy drinks typically contain large quantities of sugar. Depending on the specific brand recipe, other ingredients may include: taurine; vitamins; creatine; inositol; guarana; carnitine; antioxidants; ginseng; yerba mate; acai berries; glucuronolactone; milk thistle; gingko biloba; theanine; quercetin; numerous artificial sweeteners; and more.
Causes of Energy Drink Addiction
Addiction as a phenomenon is not yet completely understood medically, in terms of the factors which may cause one person to develop an addiction while another in very similar circumstances may not. What is clear is that repeated engagement in certain behaviours – in this case, consuming energy drinks – can unbalance the brain’s reward system and drive further repeated engagement in those behaviours.
Repeatedly consuming energy drinks can also lead to the development of a dependence to caffeine, which then reinforces the addictive behaviour by driving further consumption of caffeine in order to sustain normal levels of brain and body function.
The Stages of Energy Drink Addiction and Dependence
Every case of addiction is unique, and there is no one single roadmap for the development of addiction and dependence: every addict’s journey is different. However, roughly speaking, energy drink addiction can be divided into three stages.
- Introduction: the initial experiences of drinking energy drinks, and finding them enjoyable, creating the desire to drink them again.
- Habituation: coming to drink energy drinks regularly enough that they become commonplace in your life.
- Addiction/dependence: becoming reliant upon your consumption of energy drinks, seeking them out very regularly and experiencing negative symptoms if you do not consume them.
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The Neuropsychology of Energy Drink Addiction
As noted above, addiction is a disorder of the brain’s reward system; levels of chemicals such as dopamine become imbalanced as a result of the repeated engagement in addictive behaviour, driving further engagement in that behaviour with positive emotions and sensations upon doing so, and negative sensations if the behaviour is avoided. Energy drink dependence – actually caffeine dependence – is a disorder in which the brain and central nervous system of the affected individual require repeated consumption of caffeine in order to function normally.
Adenosine receptors A and A2A
Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors, thus limiting the effect of adenosine (which causes drowsiness and tiredness). A continued exposure to caffeine as dependence develops causes the body to build more and more adenosine receptors, which both decreases the effects of caffeine by increasing tolerance and creating a platform for more profound withdrawal symptoms, as the body will become more sensitive than previously to adenosine upon withdrawal of caffeine from the system.
Difference Between Energy Drinks Use and Energy Drinks Abuse
It is possible to consume energy drinks in a non-harmful manner; if you occasionally take energy drinks for their invigorating effects, your energy drink usage should be nonproblematic. Energy drink abuse, however, comprises the consumption of energy drinks in ways which are harmful to physical and/or mental health; this includes drinking too many energy drinks; drinking energy drinks too quickly; mixing energy drinks with other substances of abuse; and developing energy drink tolerance and dependence.
Co-Occurring Disorders: Mental Health Issues & Energy Drink Addiction
Addiction often occurs alongside other mental health issues; it can be both a cause of, and consequence of, mental health problems. In the case of energy drinks, because of their comparatively mild effects, most individuals with mental health problems will not turn to energy drinks for escapism or self-medication, which is one significant driver of substance abuse and addiction. Nevertheless, energy drink addiction can result from the compulsive consumption of energy drinks caused by various different mental health issues, while addiction itself can lead to a huge variety of mental health problems.
Teens and Energy Drink Addiction
Teens and young people are especially susceptible to energy drink addiction; for example, they are the target of much energy drink marketing, and may feel the pressure to consume energy drinks to maintain the required levels of concentration in school. In recognition of this, there is a moratorium on sales of energy drinks to under-16s in the UK, with legislation likely to follow. If you know any young person who you believe is struggling with an energy drink addiction, speak with an addiction specialist about how best to address the issue.
Risk factors for teen energy drink addiction
Some of the most prominent risk factors for energy drink addiction amongst teens include:
- associating with a peer group in which energy drinks are frequently consumed
- participating in sports and hobbies commonly sponsored by energy drinks
- exposure to energy to marketing
- engagement in alcohol and/or drug abuse
- high levels of academic work, especially around exams
- mental health issues
Signs and Symptoms of Energy Drink Addiction
It may be difficult to identify an energy drink addiction; nevertheless, some of the most obvious signs and symptoms include:
- sleep disturbances
- stomach aches
- acid reflux
- muscle twitching
- cardiovascular problems
- social difficulties
- difficulty concentrating
- thought fogginess
Symptoms of Energy Drink Addiction Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms occur when someone who has become dependent on energy drinks stops consuming them, and their system goes through a period of abnormal functioning while it readjusts to the absence of caffeine. Some of the most frequently observed withdrawal symptoms include:
- low energy and activeness
- decreased alertness
- overall negative affect
- depressed mood states
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling foggy
Health Risks Associated with Energy Drink Addiction
The NHS highlights the following risks associated with energy drink abuse and addiction:
- caffeine overdose (which can lead to a number of symptoms, including palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting, convulsions and, in some cases, even death)
- type 2 diabetes – as high consumption of caffeine reduces insulin sensitivity
- late miscarriages, low birthweight and stillbirths in pregnant women
- neurological and cardiovascular system effects in children and adolescents
- sensation-seeking behaviour
- use and dependence on other harmful substances
- poor dental health
Energy Drinks and Drug Addiction
Energy drinks have been linked with higher rates of drug addiction and substance abuse amongst young people. Studies show that students who regularly consume energy drinks have higher than average rates of cocaine and other stimulant misuse and alcohol problems. While the precise relationship is not yet understood, the stimulant qualities of energy drinks could make them a “gateway drug”, especially for other stimulants.
Some people abusing certain illegal substances – especially “rave drugs” such as stimulants – consume energy drinks in higher than average quantities because of their ubiquity in nightclubs and their additional stimulant effects.
Energy drinks and alcohol addiction
Energy drinks are increasingly provided as part of alcoholic cocktails – and some alcoholic energy drinks are now sold in off-licences and bars – driving the likelihood of addiction to both alcohol and energy drinks. Energy drinks are seen by some alcoholics as a useful stimulus, enabling them to drink more and for longer than they would normally.
Cost of Energy Drink Addiction
As well as the cost in terms of the impact on physical and mental health discussed above, energy drink addiction can have significant financial consequences. Energy drinks typically cost significantly more than other soft drinks, and consuming several energy drinks per day could result in a higher- than-desirable level of financial outlay, with potentially serious ramifications.
Living With & Managing Life with an Energy Drink Addiction
If you drink too many energy drinks, and have an addiction to them, you may not consider it a serious problem – especially compared with other forms of addiction. However, it can be fatal: do not live any longer than you have to with an energy drink addiction. Speak with your GP and/or addiction specialist about your situation.
Helping Someone with Energy Drink Addiction
Confronting someone with an addiction can do more harm than good in the long run. If you are worried about a loved one’s consumption of energy drinks, before taking any action speak with an addiction specialist about how best to address the situation. Most of all, prioritise your safety and that of those around you.
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How to Prevent Energy Drink Addiction
The only way to be absolutely certain of preventing an energy drink addiction is never to drink energy drinks at all. If you do drink them, try to make your intake as infrequent as possible, while varying brands (to ensure you regularly change the ingredients you are consuming) and seeking out low or non-caffeine energy drinks where possible. If you feel any negative symptoms of energy drink consumption, speak with your GP immediately.
Natural energy drink alternatives
Numerous natural energy drinks are marketed, of varying efficacy and value. Whilst many people opt for natural energy drinks, they are not necessarily any better for you. Always investigate the ingredients of any energy drink you are considering drinking, and remember that simply because something is natural does not mean it is good for you.
Getting Help for Energy Drink Addiction
There are now a large number of treatment facilities around the UK helping energy drink addicts. If you believe you have a problem with energy drinks, contact your GP and/or an addiction specialist to find out about treatment options near you.
Types of Energy Drink Addiction Treatment
Like any addiction treatment, the treatment of energy drink addiction is typically divided into two phases: detoxification and withdrawal; and therapy.
Energy drink addiction withdrawal and detox
Caffeine withdrawal can cause clinically significant distress and impairment, and like any withdrawal should not be attempted without medical assistance. Energy drink addiction treatment will frequently begin with a detox and withdrawal period, managed and monitored by medical professionals, with withdrawal syndrome potentially alleviated by medication.
Energy drink addiction treatment and rehab
Energy drink detox and withdrawal, and subsequently therapy, are increasingly frequently provided in residential rehabilitation (rehab). Rehab can be attended either as an inpatient (with stays normally lasting between one and three months) or on an outpatient basis,
Medications used in energy drink addiction treatment
There is no pharmaceutical cure for energy drink addiction, though some medications may be prescribed to alleviate certain withdrawal symptoms. Which medications these are will depend entirely on which symptoms manifest; for more information, speak with your GP or the doctors at any rehab you may be planning on attending.
Energy Drink Addiction Facts and Statistics
- The global energy drink market is predicted to reach $72 billion by 2024.
- Over half of Britons aged 12 to 24 have experienced side effects from energy drink consumption.
- Over one third of people admitted to hospital in the UK with heart palpitations have consumed energy drinks in the last 24 hours.
- Energy drink-related hospital admissions have risen by over 1000% since the year 2000.
- Just 50 mg of caffeine is enough to induce tachycardia.
Ready to Get Help?
If you are struggling with an energy drink addiction, you may be playing Russian roulette with your life; it’s vital that you seek help for your condition before you do yourself permanent damage.
Get help today
Throughout the UK there are a number of high-quality facilities and organisations treating energy drink addiction. Ask your GP and/or an addiction specialist today about the treatment options available to you.
Take control of your life – get started on the road to recovery
Don’t let your energy drink addiction do any more damage: take back control of your life by reaching out for help. Get in touch with your GP and/or an addiction specialist and take the first step on the path back to the healthy life you want and deserve.
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