Substance use in adolescence can involve a variety of different drugs, and energy drinks for kids may be problematic because of high caffeine and sugar content. Learn more about the risks associated with energy drink consumption and their link to drug and alcohol use among teens.
Teen Energy Drink Use Statistics
The use of energy drinks is widespread among youth. Energy drink statistics, derived from a large study of teens in grades 8–12, show that about 30% of teens use these products. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that this level of energy drink consumption among teens can be dangerous because a canned energy drink can contain upwards of 500 milligrams of caffeine, which could be toxic for youth. According to one study, there were 5,448 caffeine overdoses during a single year in the United States, and nearly half of these cases were in people under the age of 19.
Harmful Effects of Energy Drinks on Teens
Energy drinks can have a detrimental effect on adolescent health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported on the research concerned with the effects of energy drinks on the teenage body. According to recent studies, caffeine in energy drinks can increase blood pressure and lead to sleep disturbances in children.
Other studies have shown that the effects of excessive caffeine intake can be especially toxic. Documented negative effects include the following:
- Liver damage
- Kidney failure
- Breathing problems
- Agitation and psychosis
- Heart problems
- Heart failure
Given the high caffeine content in energy drinks, there is a risk for serious adverse effects — including heart attack and death — among teens who consume them in large quantities or alongside other beverages that contain caffeine.
How Energy Drinks Lead to Substance Abuse in Adolescence
One of the reasons why energy drinks are bad for teens is that they can be linked to substance abuse. Research has shown that teens who consume energy drinks are more likely to use alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs. Researchers have speculated that teens who seek extreme experiences may be more likely to use both energy drinks and drugs.
In addition, some teens may use energy drinks to hide the effects of drug use. For example, a teen who is drowsy from abusing prescription pills may consume an energy drink to become more alert. Over time, hiding signs of drug use with energy drinks can allow drug use to continue and an addiction to develop.
Energy drinks may be particularly problematic when mixed with alcohol. One study found that when energy drinks are combined with alcohol, people are less likely to experience adverse side effects that typically occur with alcohol use, such as weakness, headache, loss of coordination and dry mouth. Teens who drink energy drinks alongside alcohol may not feel as impaired and will continue to drink more and more alcohol. This can lead to tolerance and addiction.
Drugs Commonly Abused by Energy Drinkers
Drug, alcohol and energy drink use can go hand-in-hand, and there are some substances that teens tend to mix with energy drinks more than others. One study showed that energy drink consumption was linked to alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and amphetamine use in teens.
Additional research confirms this finding; specifically, a study conducted through the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that cocaine use, prescription stimulant abuse, and alcohol-related problems were more common among students who consumed more energy drinks. NIDA explains that there is some evidence that caffeine causes changes in developing teenage brains that make them more vulnerable to addiction.
Help for Teens Addicted to Stimulants
Teens who use energy drinks may be at a greater risk for developing addictions to alcohol or stimulant drugs like cocaine. Teen drug rehab may be necessary for those who begin to abuse drugs and alcohol. In treatment, teens can learn healthy ways to cope with stress and remain drug-free.