Connection between energy drinks and substance abuse among teens

Blog contributed by: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, President @ Eating Disorder Hope and Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator @ Eating Disorder Hope

Many individuals rely heavily on caffeine to make it through the day, whether in the form of a cup of coffee, tea or even an energy drink.  The quickening jolt of caffeine can be the much needed boost to function under the high pressure demands countless Americans face on an ongoing basis.

Energy drinks, in particular, have grown increasingly popular, especially among teenagers and young adults.  A recent study demonstrated that two-thirds of high school students surveyed reported consumption of energy drinks, with the most common types being Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy, and Monster [1].  Marketing campaigns for these popular drinks target this vulnerable age group by touting benefits of these beverages, such as increased stamina, energy, and improved mood.  This can be exemplified in the campaign slogan of Red Bull: “Red Bull gives you wings!”  The sales of energy drinks have expanded dramatically in light of these marketing ploys.  However, these short-term advantages pale in comparison to the long-term risks associated with consumption of energy drinks.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), emergency room visits involving energy drinks increased to over 13,000 in 2009, with about half of these trips made by 18 to 25 year old individuals [2].  Negative health effects associated with frequent use of energy drinks includes cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal distress, nervousness, and sleep dysfunctions.

Researchers have now made connections between highly caffeinated energy drinks and drug use among teenagers.  In a study completed from the University of Waterloo, researchers surveyed over 8,000 junior and senior high school students in Canada.  Results from the data revealed that substance abuse and depression were all higher among energy drink users relative to non-users.  Researchers also found that male high school students were more likely to consume energy drinks than female students [1].  Given the increased usage of energy drinks among teenagers and young adults, the findings from this study are alarming.

Lead author of this study, Sunday Azagba, noted, “In our opinion, at the very least, steps should be taken to limit teens’ access to energy drinks, to increase public awareness and education about the potential harms of these drinks and to minimize the amount of caffeine available in each unit.  This won’t eliminate the problem entirely, but steps like these can help mitigate harm to our youth.  This is something we need to take seriously.  Change won’t happen without a concerted effort.”

While further research is needed in this area, this study brings greater awareness of the negative health effects that may be connected with popular fads, such as consuming energy drinks.  With the side effects that are observed from energy drink use, it may give cause to re-examine the place of these trendy beverages in the hands of a teenager.


[1]: Azagba, et al. An emerging adolescent health risk: Caffeinated energy drink consumption patterns among high school students.  Preventive Medicine 2014 (54-59).

[2]:  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

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