A study published in the journal Pediatrics in Review says that the $5 billion energy drink industry markets directly to adolescents and that high caffeine consumption is associated with a variety of teen health issues — like insomnia, anxiety, elevated blood pressure, and digestive problems.
Researchers also found that high school and college students who mix their alcohol with energy drinks fail to appreciate the strength of the caffeinated combo and underestimate how drunk they really are.
According to the study's authors, consuming a can of a caffeinated alcoholic beverage may be equivalent to drinking a bottle of wine and a few cups of coffee. So while young adults may feel less impaired, the alcohol-energy drink mixture can lead to potentially dangerous consequences behind the wheel or on college campuses, where students may engage in riskier sexual behavior under the dual influence. The study instructs physicians to discuss energy drink use with their patients and to offer appropriate caffeine counseling where necessary.
Dr. Ebo Kwabena Blankson, a Virginia pediatrician who specializes in teen medicine, a Major in the United States Air Force and the study’s primary author says he routinely sees teens come into his clinic with signs of over-caffeination and energy-drink withdrawal — part of what inspired him to conduct this study.
“These teenagers are having classic anxiety symptoms,” Dr. Blankson explains. “Their hearts are racing, or they’re jittery, or they’re complaining of headaches, or that they can’t sleep.” And when he takes their histories, the culprit is clear: too much caffeine. And he points out that unlike other substances we talk to our teens about, energy drinks are right on the shelves, with no ID required. A teen can buy five Red Bulls and cruise right out the door — to school, a party, or home to cram for a history test. But energy drinks and chronic caffeine consumption, he says, can really disrupt a child’s home and school life.
“These products aren’t regulated,” says Dr. Blankson. “And we also just don’t know the long terms effects of all these other additives that are in energy drinks either.”