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The Dangers of Energy Drinks No One Talks About

by | Last updated Feb 25, 2021 at 9:43AM | Published on Feb 25, 2021 | Health and Wellness

dangers of energy drinks

It seems every year there are new energy drinks promising people an instant pick me up. The industry is so appealing to brands that even Coca-Cola launched a caffeinated drink early this year. Sales of energy drinks increased 5,000% in ten years. However, while energy drinks are promoted as these delicious drinks with funky flavors that give people the extra energy they need, health experts are starting to question their effects on the body, especially among teens and young adults. The unseen dangers of energy drinks can be worse than we thought.

While young adults between 18 to 38 are among the top consumers for energy drinks, one-third of consumers are teens ages 12-17. Studies show that energy drinks can lead to various health problems, including heart problems in young people. The rise of emergency visits related to energy drinks is definitely becoming a public health issue.

What’s in an Energy Drink?

Unlike coffee, energy drinks have much more than caffeine. Truthfully, these drinks use a combination of ingredients that affect the body that is much challenging to understand. 

For example, these drinks often have high quantities of added sugar. To be precise, one can of energy drink has between 7 to 14 teaspoons of sugar, while a cup of coffee has one or two. Of course, some brands offer sugar-free alternatives, yet these still contain sugar replacements that might or might not be healthy. 

Energy drinks also have add-ins or contain different dietary supplements. They include ingredients like ginseng, guarana, and taurine. These have antioxidant qualities and other benefits. Most dietitians agree that consumers are better off obtaining these supplements from real fruits and vegetables. 

Not to mention, these added ingredients, take guarana, for example, can be more dangerous than good. Guarana is a natural source of caffeine, yet it doesn’t have to be disclosed on a nutritional label. This means consumers are probably getting more caffeine than they believe. 

Health Effects of Too Much Caffeine

Interestingly, energy drinks aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it’s challenging to figure out how much is considered too much. But, sodas, which are regulated by the FDA, contain about 35 milligrams of caffeine. On the other hand, a 16-ounce energy drink contains between 150 to 280 milligrams of caffeine. Larger cans can have up to 500 milligrams of caffeine. A cup of coffee contains about 100 milligrams of caffeine. 

What’s Too Much?

Although the FDA isn’t regulating energy drinks (yet), it offers insight into how much caffeine is too much. For healthy adults, their recommendation is about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. However, this depends on how sensitive people are to caffeine’s effects and how fast they can metabolize it. 

In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of any form of caffeine and other stimulants by children and adolescents. This means that teens should stay away from energy drinks as much as possible. 

Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks

Here’s one of the biggest dangers, the combination of energy drinks and alcohol. This widespread practice is standard for both teenagers and young adults. When people combine high-caffeine drinks with alcohol, this combination lessens the effects of alcohol and makes people drink more. This is a common practice among college students, with 25% of them regularly mixing the drinks. 

Research states that people who combine energy drinks and alcohol are 4 times more likely to think they can drive home than those who drink alcohol alone. The Journal of Pediatrics also found that mixing energy drinks and alcohol was linked to binge drinking among teenagers. To be specific, they’re four times more likely to binge drink. Many studies have linked this practice to brain damage in teenagers. 

While people who binge drink don’t necessarily struggle with an alcohol use disorder, they’ll likely develop one at some point in their lives. Usually, when people start mixing substances, they’re likely to engage in polysubstance misuse and potentially fall into the traps of addiction without proper intervention and treatment. 

Top 10 Dangers of Energy Drinks

Caffeine, whether it comes from an energy drink or a cup of coffee, can cause withdrawal effects, particularly among regular users. Just like other drugs, energy drinks contain substances that can be addictive, such as sugar and caffeine. When the body is deprived of these substances, it experiences withdrawal symptoms. Let’s take a look at the long-term health risks associated with energy drinks. 

1. Risk of Cardiac Arrest

Various studies point out a connection between energy drink consumption and cardiac arrest events. One study found a link between energy drinks and cardiac events among teens. Most studies see how energy drink consumption causes changes in artery diameter and heart function, with heart cells beating increasingly faster in lab tests. 

2. Increased Anxiety

Commonly known as “caffeine jitters,” some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, particularly those with anxiety disorders. When people with anxiety and others with genetic variations consume caffeine, they can experience a full-blown panic attack. 

3. Increased Blood Pressure

High or concentrated caffeine content can cause blood pressure spikes. Considering the most common amount of caffeine, around 240 mg, studies found that this can raise blood pressure by 6.4%. The American Heart Association also notes that energy drinks can cause adverse effects on blood pressure, even more, significant effects than drinks that contain caffeine alone, such as tea and coffee.

4. Niacin Overdose

Many energy drinks contain Niacin (Vitamin B3) at levels that cause no harm. However, when people take additional supplements that contain Niacin, overdosing is possible. One case of a man who experienced Vitamin B3 toxicity caused him nonviral hepatitis after consuming too many energy drinks over three weeks. 

5. Cortisol Spike

According to the Mayo Clinic, a 240 mg energy drink can cause a dangerous increase in stress hormone release. In the study, those who consumed an energy drink had a rise of stress hormones of 74 percent, compared to a 31% increase in the placebo group

6. Mental Health Problems

Although there’s a lot much more that plays a role in the onset of mental health problems, a recent study published by the US army showed that soldiers who drink two or more energy drinks a day were more likely to exhibit mental health issues, chronic fatigue, and aggression.  

7. Risky Behavior

Because energy drinks cause euphoric-like effects, alongside alertness and almost superiority, people are more likely to engage in risky behavior. One study found that among adolescents who consume energy drinks they were more likely to engage in risky behavior resulting in injuries or legal trouble after consuming high amounts of energy drinks. 

8. Risk of Addiction

Caffeine, sugar, and many other ingredients in energy drinks can cause physical addiction. Also, because these substances become part of someone’s routine, the risk of addiction is high. Those who mix energy drinks and alcohol are more likely to struggle with substance use disorders in the future. 

9. Disrupted Sleep Patterns

Caffeine, of course, can alter someone’s sleep patterns. Notably, because energy drinks are perceived as sodas, people are more likely to drink them throughout the day. Students and gamers are known for consuming energy drinks to stay awake overnight and continue their plans. However, over time, caffeine consumption can disrupt sleep patterns to the point that it causes insomnia. 

10. Dehydration

Although technically people are consuming a drink, caffeine is a natural diuretic that can cause fluid loss in excess. When people consume caffeine in large quantities throughout their day without drinking water, they’re at high risk of dehydration. Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, affect kidney function, increase the risk of kidney stones, and lead to loss of strength and stamina.

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine Orentas

Geraldine is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Digital Marketing Manager. She has a Bachelor’s in Journalism and experience in the digital media industry. Geraldine’s writing allows her to share valuable information about mental health, wellness, and drug addiction facts, hoping to shed light on the importance of therapy and ending the stigma.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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