The Truth About Energy Drinks

Energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine or caffeine-like substances that stimulate the central nervous system, giving the body a temporary boost in energy. They’re becoming more popular among teens and tweens as a way to stay awake later to finish a homework assignment, or stay alert the next day in class when they’ve stayed up late the night before.Studies in the US and Canada suggest that more and more young people are drinking these drinks regularly. Nearly 2/3 of Canadian high school students surveyed in one study say they’ve had an energy drink in the past year, and more than 1/5 say they drink them at least once a month. A smaller study, conducted in the US, found about 15% of kids in grades 6-12 drink energy drinks once a week. And another US study of kids in grades 8-12 concludes that about 1/3 of them drink energy drinks regularly.

How much caffeine is in each container of any particular energy drink is not always easy to identify from the product packaging or from the Internet. According to, energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster contain more than 3 times the amount of caffeine per ounce than Coke or Pepsi, and more than twice as much as Mountain Dew. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics finds that the caffeine in some cans or bottles of energy drinks can equal as much as 14 cans of common caffeinated soft drinks – amounts high enough to cause harm.

Over-doing it on caffeine can pose health risks, including:
• Anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and the jitters
• Trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep
• Increased urination, which may lead to dehydration
• Loss of calcium, which can lead to bone loss over time
• Rapid heartbeat or uneven heart rhythm
• High blood pressure

Adverse reaction with some medications or supplements. Examples include medicines for ADD/ADDHD, antidepressants, and over-the counter painkillers, which may contain caffeine. And when energy drinks are combined with alcohol, they can mask some of the alcohol’s effects. This can lead some people to underestimate how intoxicated they are, and drink more.

A report published recently in Preventive Medicine finds energy drink consumption among teens may be linked with poor mental health and substance use. High school students prone to depression as well as those who are smoke marijuana or drink alcohol are more likely to consume energy drinks than their peers.

Energy drinks may be even more dangerous for younger kids. Researchers from the American Heart Association looked at calls to poison control centers about energy drinks. Many involved children under age 6 suffering serious reactions to drinking energy drinks including abnormal heart rhythms and seizures.

Cutting back recommends that teenagers drink no more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. That’s about as much as 10 ounces of an energy drink. (A moderate amount for adults is 200-300 mg a day, or about 2 8-ounce cups of coffee.) According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not drink energy drinks at all.

If you or your teens are taking in too much caffeine, you may want to cut back. It’s best to go slowly. Otherwise you could get headaches and feel tired, irritable, or just plain lousy as you withdraw from caffeine.

Try replacing energy drinks with non-caffeinated, low-sugar drinks such as water, flavored water, fruit juice, or decaffeinated coffee or tea. And if cutting back leaves you tired, it may be your body telling you that what you really need is more sleep.

Article provided by the American Cancer Society