Energy drinks are everywhere on college campuses. If you're one of the many students who quaffs them in an effort to study later or party longer, you might want to think twice before you crack open another one. Although energy drinks sell alongside sodas and sports drinks at convenience marts and grocery stores, they're not as innocuous as they seem. There are some serious risks associated with energy drinks.
Higher Risk of Alcohol Abuse
A 2010 study published in the "Journal of Addiction Medicine" found that college students who regularly drank highly caffeinated energy drinks were more likely to become dependent on alcohol. These frequent energy-drink consumers started drinking alcohol at a younger age and drank more of it per episode. To date, there is no proof of a cause-and-effect relationship. Some possible reasons for the link include alcohol abusers using energy drinks to overcome a hangover or to drink longer, past the point of intoxication. People who abuse one substance frequently abuse another.
Risk of Caffeine Overdose
You can get much more caffeine than you bargain for when you down an energy drink. The caffeine content of the many energy drinks on the market varies widely, with some containing 10 times the amount of others. Most energy drinks don't post the amount of caffeine on labels, and some have as much as 14 cans of cola. This puts drinkers at risk for caffeine intoxication, a syndrome characterized by anxiety, nervousness, inability to sleep, gastrointestinal upset, rapid heartbeat, pacing, restlessness and possible death.
Increased Risk of Driving While Intoxicated
Energy drinks combined with alcohol are a potentially lethal mixture that increases the risk of drunk-driving accidents and injuries. The caffeine in energy drinks reduces a drinker's perception of drunkenness, although the actual level of impairment is the same. As a result, these combination drinkers are more likely to become highly intoxicated and four times as likely to drive drunk, according to a 2010 study from the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions' Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health. Energy drinks may decrease sensitivity to the effects of alcohol intoxication and raise the risk of serious harm related to alcohol.
Increased Risk-Taking Behavior
Frequent consumers of energy drinks are more likely to engage in dangerous risk-taking behavior, according to research scientist Kathleen E. Miller, Ph.D., of the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions. College students who drank energy drinks more than six days each month were significantly more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, get into a serious fight, abuse prescription drugs, have unsafe sex, not use a seat belt and play extreme sports. Miller speculates a sensation-seeking personality or "problem behavior syndrome" might explain the link between energy drinks and risky behavior, but there is a need for more research.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Caffeine Experts at Johns Hopkins Call for Warning Labels for Energy Drinks
- Journal of Addiction Medicine: Increased Alcohol Consumption, Nonmedical Prescription Drug Use, and Illicit Drug Use are Associated with Energy Drink Consumption Among College Students
- AAFP News Now: Alcohol/Energy Drink Combo Leads to Higher Intoxication, Driving Risk
- University at Buffalo: Energy Drinks Linked to Risk-Taking Behaviors Among College Students