Beware the Down Side Of Energy Drinks

by Dawn Hall-James, Behavioral Health Services Community Educator
at Hunt Regional Medical Center, and 2011 DFG Board President.

Energy drinks continue to be a booming business even though their safety is questionable. They’re banned in several countries including Italy, Norway and Sweden, but in the United States these drinks are marketed to our youth. Names such as Full Throttle, Rock Star, Red Bull, and Monster draw teens to use them. They were initially developed to give an extra boost of energy. However, they have become the beverage of choice for many teens and adults who substitute mostly caffeine infused flavored water for a good night’s sleep.

The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study of caffeine infused drinks and their effect on adolescents. It showed adolescents’ intake of caffeinated drinks, their use of nighttime media-related technology and sleep patterns and behaviors.

Teenagers getting the necessary eight or more hours of sleep on school nights were able to function more than twice as well as their peers getting by on less sleep. At least one-third of all teenagers reported falling asleep during school and caffeine consumption tended to be 76 percent higher by those not able to stay awake during classes. The conclusion of the study indicated that many adolescents using multiple forms of technology late into the night – computers, television, cell phones, gaming consoles and PDAs – also consumed high amounts of caffeinated beverages.

Some teens consume one to eight energy drinks a day which can be especially harmful to the still developing teen brain. An eight ounce cup of coffee averages 85 milligrams of caffeine while one energy drink has up to 500 milligrams. Large amounts of caffeine can be very harmful when taken in large quantities or when mixed with alcohol. Caffeine is addictive and a stimulant with health risks including anxiety, heart palpitations, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and indigestion. Depending on the individual, small or large doses may cause a person to be jittery or irritable. Caffeine is also a diuretic, causing the kidneys to remove extra fluid from the body. Often teens do not realize that the energy drinks also contain extreme amounts of vitamins and herbs which can further increase heart rates. Extreme amounts of caffeine can can cause serious heart problems and even death.

Highly caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea are often sipped at a slower pace than energy drinks. Teens tend to drink energy drinks quickly and more of them. Energy drinks do not always list the amount of caffeine on the packaging so you could be unaware of how much you are consuming. Drinking two or more of these high powered energy drinks can lead to what researchers are calling caffeine intoxication, which causes similar symptoms to alcohol intoxication. Nervousness, excitement, disorientation, impaired judgment, muscle spasms and hallucinations can all be symptoms of consuming too much caffeine. The anxiety associated with high amounts of caffeine can also lead to a variety of problems that could require medical attention.

Researchers have warned that teenagers who drink large quantities of energy drinks are more likely to engage in risky and violent behavior. Kids who are heavily into drinking energy drinks are more likely to be the ones who are inclined toward taking risks. In a study published in the Journal of American College Health a collection of behaviors known as “toxic jock syndrome” is correlated with high consumption of energy drinks. Toxic jock syndrome includes symptoms such as substance abuse, unprotected sex and violence.

Even though many schools no longer sell sodas or other caffeinated beverages on campus they are readily available at nearby convenience stores, grocery stores or fast food places. Energy drinks may help you feel energized, but you might think twice about the dangers before you or your kids take another sip.