I’ve been involved in a counseling situation with a family for some weeks, and we finally got to the root of one aspect of the problem only last week. It seems their teenage children had been gulping down so-called ‘energy drinks‘, ultra-high in caffeine and other additives, and this had been affecting their behavior. I wasn’t aware of the real dangers posed by such drinks, since I don’t use them myself. However, I’ve learned enough through reading up about them that I’d like to share some of the information with you.
These drinks (often mixed with alcohol) appear to fuel tension, aggression and intolerant behavior in those who consume them to excess. Their mixing with alcohol is particularly dangerous, in that the caffeine in the energy drink counteracts the depressant effect of the alcohol. Normally, the drunker one gets, the more tired one gets, so that there’s a natural mechanism to put one to sleep and stop the drinking: but with the caffeine to offset this, the drinker gets more and more drunk – without realizing it. The results, in terms of accidents, effect on relationships, etc., can be catastrophic . . . as I’ve seen in recent weeks.
In its advice to students, the Milwaukee School of Engineering warns:
Energy drinks contain very high amounts of sugar and caffeine, which in high amounts can be dangerous. Studies have found that caffeine increases heart rate, which over time can increase the stroke and heart disease. Over consumption of caffeine can also lead to nervousness, irritability, and insomnia, and has been associated with birth defects in pregnant women. Additional researchers have shown that consuming large quantities of sugar is likely to cause weight gain, where it would it would likely take an average person 15–20 minutes to burn off the 110 calories in one can of Red Bull.
Many people are not aware of these risks with some of the marketing claims that these drinks claim to make. Certain energy drinks claim to increase performance, concentration, reaction speed, vigilance, emotional status, and metabolism, yet are unfounded and without support. Conversely, energy drinks can sometimes even have the opposite effects of their claims, like fatigue and dehydration.
Another popular trend is to mix these energy drinks with alcohol. Many like the taste, where other myths claim that mixing energy drinks with alcohol with speed up intoxication. However, research has found that no one really knows how the combination of ingredients in energy drinks will affect the human body. Many people report electrolyte disturbances, nausea, vomiting and heart irregularities when mixing alcohol with energy drinks. This combination of a stimulant (energy drink) and a depressant (alcohol) can have dangerous effects.
Articles setting out the background to these drinks (and providing a lot more information, if you’re interested) have appeared in the New York Times, the London Daily Mail, Australia’s ABC News, and many other places. Medical articles referencing them have appeared on WebMD in relation to osteoporosis, and the Mayo Clinic in relation to energy and heart health. I recommend all the linked articles for your information.
If you use energy drinks yourself, or have children who do, you really, really need to read these articles. This stuff is dangerous!