If you think energy drinks and the caffeine they contain are harmless, then you might want to think again.
Recent studies released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens showed that students who regularly consume energy drinks also had higher rates of alcohol problems, cocaine use, and prescription stimulant misuse.
While there are many factors that contribute to this kind of correlation, there’s no denying that it’s important to take a look at the link between energy drink addictions and drug use.
It’s especially important if you’re looking to understand how energy drink addictions might be indicative of a potential drug use problem for your teen or loved one now or in the future.
What to Know About the Dangers of Energy Drinks
The US government has put restrictions on energy drinks before. While caffeine itself is usually a harmless substance, energy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine along with other ingredients that can cause damage.
In fact, in 2010, the US Food and Drug Administration put a ban on caffeinated alcoholic beverages because the combination was found to be harmful. Hospital emergency visits doubled due to those beverages.
But, alcohol aside, what’s inside of energy drinks that makes them so dangerous?
The Harmful Ingredients in Energy Drinks
Aside from containing lots of sugar and caffeine, energy drinks also contain:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Artificial coloring
Artificial sweeteners in these kinds of drinks can include Sucralose, Aspartame, Ace-K, Stevia, and Saccharin. While these are great for controlling weight gain, they also lead to sugar addictions.
The most harmful ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine. While it’s safe to consume caffeine in normal doses, people who drink energy drinks are receiving high, concentrated amounts of the ingredient.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, an adult shouldn’t consume more than 400mg of caffeine. For teens, this number is much lower.
One Monster Energy drink contains four times the amount of caffeine as a shot of espresso. This means that many people are at risk of consuming much more caffeine than they should in one day.
But, the question still remains. Are energy drinks addictive? Well, the artificial sugar can cause sugar addictions. And caffeine acts as a psychoactive substance like other actual drugs. This means that it changes your brain by blocking adenosine receptors.
While it’s not as strong or addictive as a stimulant like cocaine, it’s in the same playing field.
The Harmful Side Effects of Energy Drink Ingredients
So, now you know a little bit about what energy drinks contain, but what are the side effects of those ingredients?
And energy drink addict can risk feeling the following side effects when consuming high-caffeine sugary drinks on a regular basis:
- Sugar addiction
While these side effects might not seem like much, they’re symptoms that can lead to more serious issues.
There’s a link between anxiety and depression, for example, and at least one-third of people with depression also have a problem with alcohol.
How Caffeine Primes the Brain for Addiction
When it comes to the side effects of energy drinks on the brain, the most important thing to understand is how the caffeine in the drinks essentially “primes” the brain for addiction.
In regards to teenagers specifically, this is especially concerning. Studies suggest that when teens consume high amounts of caffeine, they become accustomed to the stimulation and energy they receive.
Not only this, but they also risk developing a tolerance to caffeine. This means that by the time they’re adults, they’ll need more and more of it to feel energized.
Sometimes, this can lead to certain people looking elsewhere to receive the same peppy effect.
This is particularly true when younger people with less developed brains begin to drink highly caffeinated drinks. Because their brains aren’t fully developed yet, some scientists believe that caffeine can cause greater brain changes.
The study regarding students who regularly consume energy drinks also found that teens are at a higher risk of developing drug problems in the future.
This means that having a problem with energy drinks at a young age could be a sign of similar addiction problems in the future.
These high amounts of caffeine on a young brain, or even a developed one for that matter, can have the following effects:
- Constant stimuli can cause changes to the brain’s actual chemistry
- The individual can develop a tolerance to the substance and need to consume more just to feel okay
- When the individual builds up a tolerance, they’re more likely to develop a similar addiction to other substances
This is how harmless beverages prime the brain for addiction. Once someone has developed a minor addiction to one thing, it’s much easier for them to replace that addiction with something else.
Sometimes, this means replacing caffeine with cigarettes or other stimulants.
How Energy Drink Addictions Cause Other Addictions
By now, it’s clear that energy drinks contain harmful ingredients that can lead to various types of addictions. These addictions can be to things like sugar or caffeine.
They also lead to other types of mental illnesses and conditions that can cause someone to be more prone to developing a drug or alcohol addiction.
What’s most concerning about all of this is the fact that the younger someone is, the more prone they are to developing an addiction.
This is alarming seeing as the target consumer group for energy drinks are teens and young adults, especially when mixed with alcohol at bars and clubs.
But, you’re not going to become addicted to drugs simply because you drink a few energy drinks, right? The answer really depends on your genetic makeup and your lifestyle.
Before someone forms an addiction to energy drinks, their brain begins to adapt to their habits.
Because certain things release dopamine, the brain has to work to reestablish a balance between these surges and normal levels.
To make up for the imbalance, the brain starts to produce less dopamine. The results? The individual has to start consuming drugs or other substances in order to get themselves back to healthy, normal levels.
This is why people who develop a caffeine addiction have to constantly consume caffeine or they feel extra sluggish and have other side effects.
Their brains might also become more sensitive to other things such as stress, anxiety, or depression.
Now, their caffeine addiction is causing them to not only depend on caffeine, but it’s making them feel tired, anxious, and depressed. This might lead them to rely on other substances to take the place of their caffeine fix, like pills or stimulant drugs.
How Energy Drinks Act as a Gateway Drug
Now that this person has developed a dependency on energy drinks, their brain isn’t producing as much dopamine as it should.
So, they’re addicted to the peppy and stimulating feeling they get when they drink energy drinks, but they have to continue to drink more and more of them to replenish their brain with what it needs.
Over time, they’ll have to find other ways to make get dopamine into their body or risk feeling the side effects of lowered dopamine levels.
This includes depression and anxiety, both of which lead people to turn towards drugs and alcohol to soothe their pain. If this happens, then their brains will slowly begin to change over time.
This is evident in studies done on people with addiction. Brain-imaging scans show a loss of neurons and impaired brain activity in people with alcohol and cocaine addictions.
Not only are their brains different due to their addiction, but they’re less able to make quality decisions and regulate their impulses.
This is usually what makes it so hard for addicts to pull themselves out of a spiral once they’re addicted to a substance.
Simply put, energy drinks can act as a gateway drug. They’re just as addictive as other substances and can prime the brain to be more susceptible to cocaine addictions.
Receiving Help for Addictions of Any Kind
While energy drink addictions might not require something as serious as rehab or even a hospital visit, you shouldn’t take the issue lightly.
These kinds of addictions, especially at an early age, can cause serious problems in the future.
Because energy drinks and caffeine change your brain chemistry, they can prime you to become addicted to other similar substances in the future.
This is especially true if you or a loved one already has an addictive personality, to begin with. If an addiction to energy drinks has caused an addiction to drugs and alcohol, then it might be time to seek treatment.
Get in touch with us today and learn more about our drug and alcohol treatment program. If you have any questions, feel free to send us an email and we’ll gladly provide you with more information.