February 26, 2020

The Link between Energy Drinks and Addiction

Can popular energy drinks be “gateway” drugs that lead to harder, more dangerous substances?

Recent research conducted by the University of Maryland says “YES”.

A study conducted by the University’s School of Public Health suggests that teenagers and young adults who regularly drink energy-promising beverages such as Monster, Red Bull, and Rockstar are at increased risk of  future drug and alcohol abuse, including:

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription opioid painkillers (OxyContin, Vicodin, fentanyl, etc.)
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin, etc.)
Findings Affecting MILLIONS of Young Americans
“Parents need to be aware of those risks when their child or adolescent or young adult wants to make a decision about what sort of beverage to consume. They need to be aware of the potential risk.”

~ Dr. Amelia Arria, PhD, Director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, University of Maryland School of Public Health

According to the researchers, 1 in 3 American teenagers and young adults use energy drinks. 50% of US college students have consumed an energy drink within the past 30 days.

Why is this significant?

This high energy drink consumption rate among young adults is potentially problematic, because that is also the age group that is most at-risk to binge-drink and abuse ADHD medications.

Alcohol + Energy Drinks = A Dangerous Combination
“It seems the two substances (high energy drinks and alcohol) together push them over a limit that causes changes in their behavior and changes the neurochemistry in their brains…We’re clearly seeing effects of the combined drinks that we would not see if drinking one or the other.”

~ Dr. Richard van Rijn, Assistant Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Purdue University

One worrisome practice is to combine ultra-caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol. The thought is that the massive amount of caffeine energy drinks will counteract the alcohol’s sedating effects, thereby creating a “wide awake drunk”.

In reality, this creates two NEW, possibly deadly problems.

FIRST, by reducing sedation, mixing energy drinks and alcohol allows someone to drink far more than they are normally capable of. This raises the risk of possible alcohol poisoning.

SECOND, even though they are still awake, the person is still intoxicated. And the more they drink, the worst that intoxication becomes. This increases the likelihood of risky behavior – drunk driving, unprotected sex, accidents, and violence.

Energy Drinks and the Brain

Another issue is the fact that the adolescent brain continues to develop into the mid-20’s.

Caffeine and alcohol are two of the most-addictive substances in the world, and using them in combination – especially during the teenage and young adult years – may result lasting or even permanent negative changes to the brain.

Again, one of those possible changes is an increased vulnerability to subsequent substance abuse and addiction. As Dr. van Rijn says about energy drink users, “Their brains have been changed in such a way that they are more likely to abuse natural or pleasurable substances as adults.”
The Bottom Line about Energy Drinks

Energy drinks aren’t regulated as dangerous drugs, so many parents aren’t concerned when their children drink them, even regularly. Based on this research, maybe they SHOULD be.

If you are worried about your teenager’s drinking or drug use, Teensavers Treatment Centers can help. For over 35 years, Teensavers has been a trusted resource for Orange County teens and families in crisis.

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