A recent report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reveals that more than 20,000 patients (including many teenagers) visited the ER in 2011 with “energy drink-related” problems. Forty-two percent of these visits involved energy drinks and drug abuse. The number of ER visits involving energy drinks doubled from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011.
Energy drinks are sold in large sizes and pack a potent dose of caffeine. They resemble soft drinks in flavor and coloring, making them appealing to children and teens. This gives the impression that there is no harm in consuming them, even though large amounts of caffeine can cause serious problems such as rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, muscle tremors, and seizures. A 16-oz. can of Red Bull, Monster Energy Assault, and Rockstar holds about 160 milligrams of caffeine. More than 100 mg. of caffeine, a day is considered unhealthy for teens. (A typical cup of coffee packs a punch of 100 mg. of caffeine.) Many energy drinks contain sugar, ginseng, and guarana, which enhance the effects of caffeine.
Many young people frequently mix energy drinks with alcoholic beverages. The high levels of caffeine found in energy drinks can mask the symptoms of being intoxicated (i.e. being lethargic). Young people may incorrectly believe that energy drinks can “undo” the effects of alcohol consumption and that the energy drink makes it safe to drive while drinking. In addition, research has shown that, among college students, there is an association between energy drink consumption and behaviors such as marijuana use, sexual promiscuity, prescription drug misuse, fighting, smoking, and drinking.
Dr. Kwabena Blankson, an adolescent medicine specialist at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, and a lead author of the report on energy drinks said, “Energy drinks contain too much caffeine and other additives that we don’t know enough about. Doctors and parents need to intelligently speak to teenagers (and children) about why the energy drinks may not be safe.”
Find out if your children are consuming energy drinks and talk to them about safe alternatives such as getting adequate amounts of sleep, exercising and eating a healthy diet.