Energy drinks are becoming increasingly popular, with increasingly more brands being added to our supermarket shelves. However, there are hidden risks involved in their consumption, and they are more addictive than most people think.
Why Are Energy Drinks Addictive?
Energy drinks contain high levels of caffeine as well as elevated levels of sugar. Both these substances are potentially addictive, particularly if regularly consumed in large amounts.
Caffeine is incorporated into these drinks because it reduces feelings of tiredness or lethargy. It does this by blocking those receptors in the brain that are responsible for feelings of tiredness and the need for sleep. By blocking these receptors, it also increases the levels of some of the body’s natural stimulants – noradrenaline and dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter involved in the reward centres of the brain. Increased levels of dopamine can create pleasurable feelings, which a person will then try to recreate. Repeated use of caffeine, particularly high levels of caffeine, can lead to a desire for the reward stimulus it creates, and can eventually lead to caffeine addiction.
Sugar is also addictive; some research has suggested that it may be even more addictive than cocaine. Sugar also affects the levels of dopamine in the brain, but, instead of blocking receptors, when sugar is consumed, more dopamine is produced. This also triggers the reward circuit that is associated with addictive behaviour.
Are There Any Withdrawal Symptoms from Energy Drinks?
Caffeine withdrawal can result in both physical and psychological symptoms, while sugar is responsible for a number of physical withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal from caffeine can lead to headaches and feelings of tiredness as well as irritability, anxiety, depression, and problems with concentration.
Sugar withdrawal produces similar symptoms, with people experiencing cravings for sugar, headaches, joint pain, and other aches. Some even experience symptoms similar to those created by the flu, with mood swings and possibly even ‘the shakes’ also prevalent.
Why Are Energy Drinks a Problem?
For many individuals, energy drinks have become an almost essential part of their everyday life. They may begin by having an energy drink because of feeling tired or needing to stay ‘alert’ to do certain things. The person might then have one more often, which increases until it gets to the point that they are having an energy drink as soon as they get up in the morning. That’s when their energy drink consumption has become an addiction.
But we do not consider drinking coffee to be such a problem, so why are energy drinks an issue?
Energy drinks contain much higher levels of caffeine and sugar than the average cup of coffee. A typical small can of energy drink contains 80mg of caffeine, with the larger cans being double that, while a cup of standard brewed coffee contains around 56mg – a significant difference.
There are concerns that the levels of sugar and caffeine present in energy drinks could exacerbate underlying medical conditions, particularly heart conditions, and could potentially result in fatal cardiac arrhythmias even in healthy individuals. A research team has found evidence that use of energy drinks has been linked to a number of sudden deaths in healthy young people due to heart failure.
While the team say that a single energy drink per day is safe for most healthy adolescents, many young people are drinking far more than that. They also recommend that energy drinks should not be consumed before, or during, exercise or sport, which many young people do. They have also said that anyone with an underlying medical condition should not consume energy drinks without consulting a doctor.
Consuming lots of energy drinks also has a detrimental effect on the liver. In a recent case study published in a medical journal, a fifty-year-old man attended hospital because he was in pain, vomiting and had very dark coloured urine. Despite several tests, the doctors could find no reason for the man’s inflamed liver, until they learned that he had been drinking four to five energy drinks every day before he became ill. There have been other similar cases where energy drinks have caused severe liver damage.
Where Can I Get Help with an Energy Drink Addiction?
At Addiction Helper, we can provide you with free advice about your problem. Our experienced advisors will talk to you without judgement, and can also explain different treatment options open to you. They can help you find the right sort of treatment for your situation, so please contact us today to start your journey to recovery.
(Time) The Case Against Energy Drinks Is Getting Stronger
(Consumer Affairs) High amounts of sugar and caffeine can aggravate underlying heart issues, causing fatal arrhythmias