Although energy drinks are not suitable for teenagers or younger children, significant numbers of children consume them.
Energy Drink Use And Increased Rate Of Substance Abuse
In a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, researchers from the University of Michigan examined the connection between teen energy drink use and the chances of drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and/or taking illegal or illicit drugs. These researchers concluded that teenagers who consume energy drinks have an increased rate of intake for all three of these types of substances.
High Caffeine Concentrations In Energy Drinks
Energy drinks get their name because they’re marketed as aids for overcoming fatigue or sleepiness and gaining the energy needed to stay engaged in various work-related or recreational activities. While a mainstream, high-caffeine soda like Mountain Dew can contain as much as 55 mg of caffeine per serving, a relatively low-caffeine energy drink can contain 75 mg of caffeine per serving.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a single serving of a high-caffeine energy drink can contain 200 mg of caffeine or more. Most energy drinks on the U.S. market contain caffeine obtained from the kola nut, a longstanding soft drink ingredient, or from coffee beans or tea leaves.
However, some drinks contain a high-caffeine extract from a tropical plant species known as guarana. Examples of popular energy drink brands available in America include Monster, Red Bull and a highly concentrated product called 5-Hour Energy, which delivers caffeine in small, “shot”-sized doses.
Energy Drinks Being Marketed To Adolescents
Beverage companies in the U.S. market energy drinks to adolescents and younger children in both subtle and overt ways. Despite this fact, guidelines released by the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourage the consumption of any type of energy drink by an adolescent or younger child. Reasons for this official position include the potential of caffeine to significantly harm the development of children’s cardiovascular and nervous systems, as well as the lack of any nutrient content in energy drinks.
Energy Drink’s Rate Of Teen Use
The National Institute on Drug Abuse tracks teen consumption of a range of legal and illegal substances through a University of Michigan-led survey project called Monitoring the Future, which gathers information from across the U.S. Figures from this annual survey indicate that nearly one-third of American 8th, 10th and 12th graders (the three grades polled by Monitoring the Future) regularly consume standard-sized servings of energy drinks or concentrated energy drink “shots.”
This compares to a 40 percent rate of daily use for non-diet soft drinks and a 20 percent rate of daily use for sugar-free soft drinks. Teenagers most likely to consume full-sized energy drinks or “shots” include boys, young teens, teens from single-parent homes and teens whose parents are relatively poorly educated.
Energy Drink’s Impact On Substance Use
In the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the University of Michigan researchers used data gathered from almost 22,000 participants in the 2010-2011 version of Monitoring the Future to assess the connection between teen energy drink consumption and the chances of getting involved in alcohol use, cigarette smoking or drug use. They also used information from the same group of individuals to compare the impact of energy drink consumption on substance use risks to the impact of both non-diet soft drink consumption and sugar-free soft drink consumption.
The researchers concluded that both energy drink consumption and non-diet soft drink consumption are associated with higher chances for substance use among teenagers. However, while non-diet soft drink consumption is linked to a relatively modest increase in overall risks for substance involvement, energy drink consumption is linked to an increase that ranges from roughly 100 percent to 200 percent, even after discounting for the impact of other relevant factors. This heightened risk extends to alcohol use, cigarette use and drug use, and occurs among both younger and older teenagers.
The authors of the study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine believe that the connection between energy drink consumption and substance use in teenagers is likely related to a pattern of behavior that features both impulsive actions and a desire to seek out highly stimulating experiences. The same pattern of behavior is known to increase the chances for substance use in young adults, and may lead an affected individual to the onset of substance abuse or substance addiction.
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