Parents who are concerned that their teen may be in need of a drug intervention but are unsure of whether he or she is actually using illicit substances may want to take a closer look at how he or she chooses to get their caffeine fix. According to a recent study published by the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, which was conducted by researchers from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, teens who consume energy drinks and shots may be more likely to use alcohol, marijuana and tobacco than those who do not.
The researchers examined data from nearly 22,000 U.S. students who were part of the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They found that 30 percent of the students said that they used energy drinks or shots. Furthermore, they discovered that students who consumed these beverages were more likely to report that they had also used alcohol, drugs or cigarettes than those who did not.
A concerning association
The scientists explained that energy drinks have been associated with “sensation-seeking or risk orientation” behavior in children, which may explain why students who drink these beverages are more likely to use illicit substances than others. However, the researchers explained that their study does not prove that energy drinks are a gateway to substance abuse, it simply shows an association.
“The current study indicates that adolescent consumption of energy drinks/shots is widespread and that energy drink users also report heightened risk for substance use,” researcher Yvonne Terry-McElrath and colleagues wrote. “[E]ducation for parents and prevention efforts among adolescents should include education on the masking effects of caffeine in energy drinks on alcohol- and other substance-related impairments, and recognition that some groups (such as high sensation–seeking youth) may be particularly likely to consume energy drinks and to be substance users.”
The researchers added that even if they do not have conclusive evidence showing that teens who drink energy drinks will go on to use more dangerous substances, these beverages are still likely a poor choice for most teens’ diets, since they tend to be high in sugar.
A dangerous combination
The researchers explained that energy drinks are often used in conjunction with alcohol to “mask” the flavor. In 2013, researchers from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and Penn State University conducted a study which determined that mixing energy drinks and alcohol may be more dangerous than simply drinking alcohol alone. The researchers examined data on 652 college students and found that those who consumed energy drinks and alcohol tended to drink more heavily and get more intoxicated than those who just drank alcohol.
The New York Times reported in 2011 that many scientists were worried about how safe these beverages may be because of the high amounts of caffeine and sugar in them. Some have even expressed concern that these beverages may be associated with cardiac arrest.
The findings from both of these studies suggest that parents may want to talk to their kids about the dangers of both alcohol and energy drinks. Parents who notice that their children seem to be purchasing a lot of energy drinks may want to ask them if they understand how these drinks may negatively impact their bodies, and why they feel the need to drink them in the first place. Over-consumption of these beverages could be a sign that children are not getting enough sleep – or that they may be considering trying more illicit substances.