Years ago, D.A.R.E. officers went into local schools and told students that smoking and drinking were gateway drugs to hard illegal ones. Now it appears that this message could be shifting to include energy drinks and caffeine to the list thanks to recent studies linking their use to later illegal drug use. This is particularly the case among young adults, who were the focus of a recent study.

study just published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Maryland followed college students for three years and assessed their past-year energy drink use. The study found that young adults who consistently used energy drinks over the years or increased their consumption also had higher rates of cocaine use, alcohol use disorder, and prescription stimulant misuse.

The most recent study’s findings are consistent with the results from another study that focused on secondary school students and energy drink consumption. In that study, 30 percent of students surveyed admitted to daily use of energy drinks or shots. The study found that there is a correlation between the use of these energy drinks and a heightened risk for substance abuse.

Classifying Caffeine as a Gateway Drug

The body of research released in the past few years on energy drinks has created some push for caffeine to be labeled as a gateway drug. Energy drinks are marketed as products that are supposed to improve a person’s alertness and stamina. Some may contain a few vitamins, but the primary ingredient in the drink is caffeine. Caffeine itself does not provide energy. Rather, it blocks certain receptors in the brain that allow the body to feel fatigue.

A typical cup of coffee has about 85 mg of caffeine while one Monster energy drink has 160 mg. Given that many people consume multiple energy drinks at a time, it can be easy to overdo it. This is particularly the case when caffeine drinks are combined with alcohol, which has become a popular practice.

Several years ago, SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) released a report showing that emergency room visits involving energy drinks doubled between 2007 and 2011, with just under half involving a combination of energy drinks and either drugs or alcohol. While caffeine is not officially classified as a gateway drug, the potential danger of a substance abuse issue developing exists among young adults who consume high quantities of energy drinks.

What Students With Addiction Issues Can Do to Find Help

Young adulthood can be a struggle, and there are unique pressures that most high school and college students face. While certain drugs might help boost energy in the short-term, the physical, emotional, and social issues that result from a later substance abuse issue can be life-altering.

If you are a student or the loved one of a student struggling with substance abuse, there is help available. The addiction specialists at The Recovery Village are available to speak to you about our individual drug treatment programs that include medical detox, counseling, and education about addiction.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.