A recent study by the University of Michigan found a strong correlation between young people (eight to twelfth grade) consuming energy drinks and later developing substance abuse problems. The research found that those who had used these drinks in the last 30 days were far more likely to also use alcohol or drugs. Some addiction experts have gone so far as to describe these caffeine beverages as a new gateway drug. There is already plenty of evidence to show that energy drinks can be dangerous, so the likelihood that they also lead to addiction makes them appear even more sinister.
What is an Energy Drink?
Energy drinks refer to a number of different beverages that contain a stimulant that can increase wakefulness and alertness. The stimulants used in these drinks are legal and include things like caffeine, ginseng, and guarana in high doses. One of these energy products can have up to five times as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. These beverages usually contain very high amounts of sugar as well, which also offer a temporary boost to those drinking it.
Why Do People Drink Energy Drinks?
The most common reason why individuals use energy drinks is that it helps them overcome fatigue. These beverages can give a temporary energy boost that can help fend off tiredness. Many individuals just enjoy the increased wakefulness sensation that these drinks offer. One of the most dangerous motives for consuming energy drinks is to be able to drink more alcohol in one session.
The Dangers of Energy Drinks
Energy drinks are legal, but this does not mean they are safe. Some of the known dangers associated with these beverages include:
- being a threat to cardiovascular health because they increase heart contractions and changes to heart rhythm, which could trigger a heart attack, even in teenagers
- when mixed with alcohol, these can greatly increase the risk of alcohol poisoning
- elevating blood pressure to dangerous levels
- exacerbating existing heart problems
- triggering panic attacks and feelings of extreme anxiety
- becoming nauseous and vomiting after drinking the beverages
- the sugar in these drinks (equal to as much as four cans of cola) being very damaging to health
- triggering seizures.
Typically, individuals ingest energy drinks for much the same reason they do alcohol or drugs – they want to change the way they feel. Young people consuming energy drinks could experience a type of high, which could encourage them to experiment with other highs. It used to be that cannabis was considered the main gateway drug to addiction, but it could be that these energy drinks are just as risky. The new evidence from the University of Michigan about the link between these drinks and substance abuse is backed up with plenty of anecdotal evidence.
Fears about the dangers of energy drinks are increasing, and recently there were calls by a number of health experts in the UK to have them banned from schools. More needs to be done to educate the public about the dangers of these drinks; young people especially need to be discouraged from drinking them. A ban on these drinks in schools would be a good place to start.