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Energy drinks, packed with caffeine, natural stimulants and sugar, have seen climbing sales and market share during recent years, topping out at more than $3 billion annually. The top buyers are pre-teens and young adults, from around age 12 to age 24, with one out of three saying they consume energy drinks.
However, energy drinks aren’t just about staying awake – health experts say they can cause health problems like irregular heartbeat rates, nausea and also a tendency for teens to take part in risky and dangerous behaviors.
Several teens have been sent to the emergency room from consuming energy drinks, usually with heart irregularities and perspiration. Teachers have said that students are coming to school almost intoxicated by the caffeine, or coming down from a caffeine rush. Some high schools have outlawed energy drinks on school property.
A recent study published in The Journal of American College Health suggests that the more energy drinks a young person consumes, the greater the chance that they will act aggressively or participate in dangerous behaviors like sex without protection, fighting, or using drugs and alcohol. Other concerns over young adults and energy drinks come because many consume more than one energy drink at a time.
While research hasn’t indicated a direct causal relationship between high consumption of energy drinks and risk-taking for teens and young adults, experts say parents whose children consume energy drinks should be warned that their child may take other health risks.
The makers of energy drinks say they designed the beverages to be consumed by adults, not teenagers. Ingredient levels differ from drink to drink, such as Red Bull, Venom and Full Throttle, and can include natural stimulants like guarana or ginseng, the amino acid taurine and several types of vitamins. Caffeine amounts can range from 107 mg (a little less than triple the amount found in a soda), to 428 mg in a 12-ounce sized serving.
Coffee drinks, in comparison, can have similarly high levels of caffeine, from about 75 mg in a latte to 250 mg for a coffee. However, unlike hot beverages, the popular energy drinks are usually refrigerated and can be consumed in short periods of time. In addition, the combination of energy drinks with alcoholic beverages can increase a person’s chances for consuming large amounts of alcohol. The boost provided by the energy drink can keep the fatigue associated with alcohol at bay, as well as mask other effects caused by drinking.
Studies on college campuses, including one study published in Academic Emergency Medicine, says students who combine energy drinks with alcohol had higher chances of becoming injured or involved in an accident. In addition, energy drinks were suggested to be linked to sexual aggressiveness.
Energy drinks are popular, trendy and do provide a short-lived rush, but parents and school officials are encouraged to keep close tabs on young adults’ consumption, especially in terms of health consequences and a willingness to try other potentially dangerous habits.