Energy drinks may seem harmless, but they can be toxic for teens because of their high caffeine content. In some cases, they can also increase a teen’s risk of drug and alcohol abuse.

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
  • Seizures
  • Agitation and psychosis
  • Heart problems
  • Heart failure
  • Death 

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. Researchhas 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. 

If your teen is addicted to stimulants or other drugs, The Recovery Village has locations around the country and can provide comprehensive services to meet your family’s needs.  Reach out to one of our caring admissions specialists today to learn more about our programs and help your teen begin the journey toward a drug-free lifestyle.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

Terry-McElrath, Yvonne, et al. Energy drinks, soft drinks, and substance use among US secondary school students“>Energy d[…]hool students.” Journal of Addiction Medicine, January 1, 2015. Accessed September 4, 2019. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics. “Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: Are they appropriate?“>Sports d[…] appropriate?” June 2011. Accessed September 4, 2019. 

Seifer, Sara, et al. “Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults.” “>Health e[…]g adults.” Pediatrics, March 2011. Accessed September 4, 2019. 

Ferreira, Sionaldo, et al. “Effects of energy drink ingestion on alcohol intoxication.” Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, April 2006. Accessed September 4, 2019. 

National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. “Energy drinks and drug use: A surprising connection“>Energy d[…]ng connection.” June 11, 2018. Accessed September 4, 2019.

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.