Energy Drinks

Since the introduction of Red Bull in the late 1990s, the energy drink market has experienced radical growth. Today, there are hundreds of new brands selling energy drinks with caffeine content ranging from 50 mg to an alarming 500 mg per can/bottle. Some countries like the United States have relaxed laws for the regulation of energy drinks, which results in aggressive marketing targeted particularly at young males and individuals who work night shifts.

In 2014, the NHS issued a warning, stating that the danger of consuming energy drinks primarily lies in its caffeine content. Potential risks include Type 2 diabetes, caffeine overdose, late miscarriage, cardiovascular and neurological effects in adolescents, substance dependence and sensation-seeking behaviour.

What are Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are non-alcoholic drinks that contain vitamins, caffeine and taurine (these are the major ingredients). They provide benefits such as increasing alertness and boosting energy. This is obtained from sugars (glucose and sucrose) and stimulant energy from other ingredients. They have a high caffeine concentration and a psychoactive compound that can lead to tolerance and dependence in individuals.

Energy drinks were introduced in Japan in the 1960s and became popular in Europe in the late 1980s, before spreading to the rest of the world by the 1990s. It’s common to find young adults and teenagers mixing energy drinks with alcohol. In British pubs, one combination is called ‘Goldfish Bowls’ (Red Bull and vodka). The amount of caffeine in each serving depends on the formula, but a warning must be displayed on the can when the caffeine content is over 150mg.

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What is Energy Drink Addiction?

Despite its universal popularity, caffeine is a psychoactive substance. When you consume large quantities, it can cause certain health problems. Apart from caffeine, some energy drinks contain guarana (caffeine derived from Brazilian cocoa), glucuronolactone, bitter orange, ginseng and Yohimbe.

Most individuals who consume energy drinks don’t experience symptoms of substance dependence. However, energy drinks that have large amounts of caffeine can make your body build mild tolerance and dependence if you take them frequently. If you experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit energy drinks, this is considered a sign of dependence.

Dangers of Energy Drink Addiction

Cardiac arrest: Individuals who have underlying heart conditions might go into cardiac arrest after consuming multiple cans of energy drinks. The heart contracts caused by energy drinks are forceful and harmful to someone with a heart condition. Between 2009 and 2011, there were 4,854 calls to poison control centres because of energy drink consumption, with 51% involving children.

Increased anxiety: If you have two distinct genetic variations in your adenosine receptors, there’s a chance you could feel anxious after taking caffeinated energy drinks. In fact, larger intakes can trigger a panic attack.

Headaches: Migraines and headaches are withdrawal symptoms often associated with caffeine consumption.

Type 2 Diabetes: Energy drinks contain sugar and might wear out cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.

Energy Drinks and Drug Addiction

You might not realise it, but any drink that contains caffeine has the potential for addiction. Caffeine is one of the most addictive substances and if consumed daily, (especially in large quantities), your body becomes dependent on it. New research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that teenagers and young adults who regularly consume energy drinks increase the risk of future substance use disorder.

Researchers found that study participants who consumed energy drinks over a five-year period saw a higher number of individuals abusing stimulants, cocaine and alcohol. However, the study doesn’t explain whether there is a direct link between energy drinks and substance abuse. Therefore, further research is required for policy formulation and prevention strategies.

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A new study finds energy drinks among youth paving way for later cocaine addictions

A new study published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence Journal links energy drink consumption with substance use disorder. The study found that a third of US college students became addicts to prescription pills or alcohol and a further third of college students aged 21 and 24 regularly consume energy drinks.

Researchers followed college students over a period of four years, studying their risk-taking habits and general health, concluding that habitual energy drink consumers have a higher potential to abuse alcohol, cocaine and other addictive substances later in life. 51.4% of study participants had a sustained and steady energy drink consumption, 17.4% remained at risk to abuse cocaine and 20.6% showed a declined consumption of energy drinks over the years.

What No One Tells You About Energy Drink Addiction

While most energy drinks don’t contain the same amount of caffeine to be found in Starbucks’ coffee, they are easy to drink and heavily sweetened to make them more attractive to a younger market. The energy boost is temporary and is sometimes accompanied by dangerous health risks, such as:

High Blood Pressure: Caffeinated products increase your blood pressure. This is dangerous if you already have HBP, as it increases the risk of stroke and hypertension-related problems.

Insomnia: Many people consume energy drinks to stay awake and retain energy, but when abused, these products make it difficult to fall asleep. Subsequently, lack of sleep is dangerous if you’re driving or performing activities that require concentration.

Addiction: It is possible to develop an addiction to energy drinks. At this stage, you’ll be unable to function normally or feel like yourself without consuming energy drinks.

Nervousness: Consuming large amounts of caffeinated drinks causes some people to become nervous and jittery. This interferes with performance and leads to emotional stress that manifests as anxiety.

Ingredients in Energy Drinks and Their Effects

The main ingredients in energy drinks include:

Caffeine: Known as the most popular drug on earth, caffeine has been used as a stimulant for centuries. Most energy drinks contain between 70mg -200mg per can. Caffeine increases blood pressure, heart rate, stimulates the central nervous system and dehydrates the body.

Taurine: The human body naturally produces Taurine as a type of amino acid. The synthetic form is found in energy drinks. Taurine helps to regulate energy levels, muscle contractions and heartbeat, as well as supplementing the body’s natural production during stressful conditions.

Guarana: Native in South America, Amazonians use Guarana to increase energy and alertness. Some individuals who prefer guarana to caffeine report that it provides increased alertness, while others say that the stimulating effect of caffeine is more agreeable.

B vitamins: Vitamin B helps the body convert food to energy. It is a naturally occurring vitamin in the food you eat and a common energy drink supplement.

Glucose: Energy drinks contain a high concentration of sugar. One can contain up to 63 grams of sugar (the equivalent of two Snickers bars). Excessive sugar intake is linked to diabetes, obesity and spikes in insulin levels.

Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks

Red Bull became famous in the UK and US, because of its appeal to pub goers and clubbers everywhere. The combination of Red Bull and Vodka is a popular choice amongst partygoers who want to stay up all night, dancing and drinking. A Wake Forest study revealed that students who combined alcohol and energy drinks were more likely to:

  • Become intoxicated quickly and twice as often
  • Suffer injury whilst under the influence
  • Take risky decisions, such as riding with a drunk driver
  • Be sexually abused under the influence
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Symptoms of Energy Drink Addiction

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle pain and nausea
  • Difficulty reducing your caffeine intake
  • You continue drinking energy drinks, even when you know the health risks
  • You experience fatigue, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and headaches when you go just a short period without consuming energy drinks.

12 Signs of an Energy Drink Addict

  • You drink more energy drinks than water
  • As tolerance increases, you’ll feel tired even after consuming one energy drink
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you miss your normal consumption
  • You sleep less and drink more energy drinks to make up the difference
  • Your loved ones express concern over your excessive caffeine intake
  • You require energy drinks to complete work-assigned tasks
  • You take energy drinks with your meals
  • You start your day with energy drinks
  • You’re irritable and moody when you’ve not had an energy drink
  • You consume copious amounts of energy drinks throughout the day
  • You don’t mind being late for work, because you have to buy energy drinks beforehand
  • You spend up to £15 pounds of energy drinks every week.

Facts and Statistics About Energy Drinks Addiction

  • In 2011, the number of hospital visits related to energy drinks consumption doubled to 20,783 from 10,068 in 2007.
  • Men aged between 18 and 39 were the predominant age group involved in hospital visits.
  • 42% of those visits involved mixing energy drinks with addictive substances, such as cocaine.
  • Regular consumption of energy drinks leads to caffeine withdrawal symptoms and increases the risk of future substance abuse.
  • 54% of Americans consume caffeine daily.
  • Three out of four individuals who consume caffeine products are addicted to one substance or other.

Main Energy Drinks Withdrawal Symptoms

Prominent withdrawal symptoms associated with energy drinks include:

  • A caffeine-induced headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability

Others include:

Flu symptoms: Includes a runny nose, fever and blocked sinuses.

Depression: This is a psychological symptom that accompanies withdrawal from most substances. For individuals with a history of mental health issues, caffeine withdrawal serves to exacerbate symptoms.

Anxiety: Some individuals reported experiencing anxiety and panic attacks during energy drinks withdrawal.

Heart rhythm abnormalities: Changes in heart rhythm, including low blood pressure and heart palpitations.

Brain fog: Difficulty forming coherent thoughts or completing tasks that require concentration.

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How to get help for Energy Drink Addiction

Many sectors of society do not consider energy drink addiction a serious problem. As earlier stated, addiction to energy drinks causes mental and physical health problems that require professional help for effective treatment.

You can gradually wean yourself off energy drinks by reducing your regular dose and switching to healthy, natural alternatives (if you have a mild addiction). Psychological addiction is harder and requires help from a psychotherapist. Group therapy and hypnotherapy are two options that could be applied during treatment.

Natural Energy Drink Alternatives

Green smoothies and juices: Use kale, parsley and spinach when making your green juice. They are natural sources of Vitamin B, which helps your body perform at optimum levels.

Green Tea: Contains natural caffeine in small quantities. Green tea also carries health benefits such as reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease, as well as improving performance and mental clarity.

Water: Unappreciated, yet effective, water is the best energy drink. Metabolic reactions slow down when you’re dehydrated, which leads to lower energy levels. Get creative by adding lemon, lime, strawberries or blueberries to your glass of water.


FAQs

How dangerous are energy drinks?

The potential risks associated with energy drink consumption include caffeine overdose, late miscarriages, cardiovascular and neurological problems in children and teenagers, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and substance dependence.

Why are energy drinks so popular?

For centuries, humans have relied on caffeine to provide an energy boost that helps get them through the day. You might typically reach for an energy drink to give you a temporary boost needed to complete tasks when natural energy levels are falling.

What are the active ingredients in energy drinks?

Active ingredients include caffeine, guarana, sugars, taurine, ginseng, B vitamins, L-Carnitine, antioxidants, glucuronolactone, Yerba Mate, artificial sweeteners and more.

What are the other ingredients found in energy drinks?

Other ingredients include creatine, Acai berry, Inositol, L-Theanine, Milk Thistle, Ginkgo Biloba, Quercetin, preservatives and artificial colours.

Which drinks are classified as energy drinks?

Sometimes, energy drinks and energy shots are mislabelled. Usually, energy drinks come in units of at least 250 ml, while shots have 120 ml or less. Coffee, tea and naturally caffeinated drinks are not classed as energy drinks. All energy drinks carry the active ingredients mentioned above.

Are energy drinks addictive?

Energy drinks are safe in small quantities, but when you consume large amounts, your body builds a tolerance for caffeine. Similar to other substance addictions, dependence is the next stage. You’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit at this stage. Withdrawal symptoms include irritability, headaches, flu-like symptoms and drowsiness.

Who is most at risk of addiction to energy drinks?

Energy drinks are mostly marketed towards young adults, sportspeople and individuals who need caffeine ‘on the go’. The official target demographic is young men aged 18 to 29 but extends to 35 years in reality.

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