I think of energy drinks as the new liquid accessory for many teens. Something to hold onto with nervous hands and something to spend money on when they’re really tired or need a “boost.” Teens report drinking them because of inadequate sleep, a need for energy, and wanting to mix them with alcohol. It’s big business to market energy drinks to those in high school or college and that big business is remarkably successful. More than a 1/3 of teens (39%) say they’ve had an energy drink in the last month and “jock identity” is associated positively with a frequency of energy drink consumption.

These drinks may really make you look cool…

College students may be even more compelled to drink them; one study found 50% of students had consumed at least one to four drinks in the last month. It’s hard to remember from our vantage point, adults aren’t really the target of energy drink advertising and sponsorships. Because of that paucity of advertising, only 15% of adults say they drink them.

Trouble is, there’s nothing really good for us in these energy drinks. We don’t ever need the caffeine, guaranine, ginseng, and sugar from these concoctions. Energy drinks can have 3-4 times the amount of caffeine in a regular cup of coffee but you may never know it. The labels can be opaque and misleading. The labels aren’t regulated and the content of caffeine isn’t mandated. A can of soda can have no more than 65mg of caffeine while one energy drink (Wired X505) has 505mg. I think this should make you mad.

A recent summary came out in Pediatrics in Review to help guide teens (and their doctors) on what they need to know. But many of us are still catching up. These are not “health” drinks although some of the claims on the bottle and advertising may suggest so. Most parents would prefer their athlete drink water over energy drinks. Thing is, their athlete would do far better. Caffeine can make you anxious, have palpitations, elevate your blood pressure, cause digestive problems, and increase insomnia. The sugar in these drinks will likely just add weight, not great energy, to your athlete.

Things To Know About Energy Drinks

  • Energy drinks are not regulated by the FDA like soda is. The FDA is investigating health effects but there are no current mandates in place for manufacturers. A can of soda is limited to 65 mg of caffeine. Energy drinks don’t have those limits and often the bottles and cans don’t even list all ingredients that have stimulant-like effects. Popular energy drinks have anywhere from 150mg of caffeine per bottle to up to 505mg. For reference, a typical 6 oz cup of coffee has about 100mg caffeine.
  • Most energy drinks contain lots of sugar, but also caffeine, taurine, guarana, ginseng, and some added vitamins. Guarana, a common ingredient, contains guaranine–which is caffeine– 1 gram of guarana is the equivalent to as much as 40 mg caffeine. Often the amount of guarana often isn’t listed on labels for these energry drinks. Therefore, the stimulant effect may be even greater than we would think at first glance.
  • “The energy drink industry has successfully marketed their products to adolescents,” says authors of the review. With sponsorships from soccer teams to extreme sport athletes, energy drinks are coupled with people and images of strength and success. If it didn’t work on teens, manufacturers of energy drinks wouldn’t do market this way. Teens report drinking energy drinks because they’re tired, didn’t get enough sleep, or to allow them to drink alcohol with ease. Energy drinks become an easy solution to some complex problems.
  • When energy drinks are used in combination with alcohol the risk escalate. Back in 2010, nine college students were hospitalized in Washington State with alcohol poisoning and one almost died. The caffeine masks the normal symptoms you might normally feel when drinking alcohol. This Washington State episode and scare was blamed on students drinking a fruit-flavored, caffeinated alcoholic drink. Research shows that teens/college-age adults who mix alcohol with energy drinks do so to “not feel as drunk,” but it may cause them to drink past levels of safety. The outcomes for those who mix alcohol and energy drinks aren’t good either. A 2008 study found that when students in North Carolina mixed alcohol with energy drinks (versus those who drank alcohol) were more likely to be taken advantage of sexually, ride in a car with a drunk driver, be hurt, or require medical treatment. Other studies find if you drink energy drinks you drink more alcohol.

What are we going to do about this?