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Energy Drinks Linked to Depression and Substance Abuse in Teens

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link between substance abuse and depression in teens Roman Sigaev/PhotoSpin

Energy Drinks: the New Coffee

Energy drinks, which often include caffeine and ginseng, are the new coffee and cola for our kids. And concerns are being raised about the effects such a high dose of caffeine can have on kids’ bodies, particularly their hearts.

There are also concerns about a link between teen consumption of energy drinks and increased risk of substance abuse and depression.

New Study Findings

In 2011, “the U.S. Drug Abuse Warning Network reported a tenfold spike in emergency-room visits involving energy drinks. In some 70% of cases involving teens age 12 to 17, the energy-drink itself—not drugs or alcohol—was the main reason for going to the ER.” (1)

Further investigations by the FDA into these “nutritional supplements” has revealed adverse event reports for several brands of energy drinks following reports made by patients, families and/or doctors.

According to a recent Atlantic Canada study (whose results were published in the journal Preventative Medicine) out of 8,200 high school students, 20 percent of students reported drinking one or more energy drinks per month in the previous year.

The study also showed that the most intense users tended to be more likely to be depressed, and more likely to have substance abuse. Researchers point out that there is no evidence that drinking energy drinks leads to substance abuse. (3)

It is still unclear what the actual association is between depression, substance abuse and energy drink consumption, but it is supposed that teens just like the temporary benefits of “increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical energy.” (3)

It is commonly known and accepted that those who consume caffeinated beverages experience a “caffeine crash” when energy levels return to pre-caffeinated levels.

It is entirely reasonable to speculate that this crash can also result in a feeling of depression and the drive to look for ways of keeping energy levels at a higher rate. But, again, in light of no conclusive evidence, this is just speculation.

Energy Drinks versus Coffee

So what’s the difference between energy drinks and coffee or colas?

Parents and school officials may not be aware that these energy drinks are sold as nutritional supplements which can make people believe they’re safe and healthy. Instead, though the reality is that nutritional supplements do not go through the same regulations as other food and drinks (i.e., coffee).

This means they may contain more than the 71 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounces mandated by the FDA. (1)

Unfortunately as nutritional supplements, these products aren’t required to indicate on their packaging how much caffeine is in the drink.

“A recent test by Consumer Reports found that:

• “5-Hour Energy contains 215 milligrams of caffeine per serving.

• “5-Hour Energy Extra Strength contains 242 milligrams of caffeine per serving

• “Monster Energy contains 92 milligrams of caffeine per serving

• “Rockstar Energy Drink, Double Strength contains 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving.

• “Rockstar Energy Shot contains 229 milligrams of caffeine per serving.”

By comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee will contain approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine depending on the strength of the roast and method of brewing, which can mean up to 165 milligrams of caffeine. (2)

These amounts are actually within the safe limits of caffeine consumption for healthy adults, but not for children. For them the limit is between 45 and 85 milligrams per day depending on a child’s weight, and up to 100 milligrams for teens.

Teen Caffeine Problem not Going Away

In light of these findings, parents need to be aware of the dangers and monitor what their children are consuming. It is unlikely that teens will stop going to these drinks for that pleasant energy buzz.

Despite the above findings and concerns, it was expected that energy drink sales in 2013 would reach $20 billion in the U.S.


1. FDA: 5 Death Reports for Monster Energy Drink. DeNoon, Daniel J. WebMD. Web. Accessed: Apr 30, 2014.

2. More Deaths, Illness Linked to Energy Drinks. DeNoon, Daniel J. WebMD. Web. Accessed: Apr 30, 2014.

3. Energy drinks linked to depression, substance abuse in teens: study. Ubelacker, Sheryl. The Canadian Press. Web. Accessed: Apr 30, 2014.

Reviewed May 1, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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