College students often turn to energy drinks to get through long nights spent cramming for exams or finishing that term paper. Loaded with caffeine, sugar, vitamins and other substances that can be harmful in large amounts, the risks associated with consuming too many energy drinks are well documented.
Energy drinks can do a number on your cardiovascular system by raising stress levels, increasing heart rate and elevating blood pressure. Too much caffeine can also cause insomnia and anxiety.
Now, a new study says that energy drinks come with another problem: Regular consumption has been linked to later drug use in young adults. The study, conducted by University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, followed young adults ages 21 to 25 across a five-year period.
The study found that those who regularly consumed energy drinks and sustained that consumption over time were significantly more likely to use cocaine, take prescription stimulants like Ritalin that were not prescribed to them and be at risk for alcohol use disorder at age 25.
“The results suggest that energy drink users might be at heightened risk for other substance use, particularly stimulants,” study researcher Dr. Amelia Arria, associate professor of behavioral and community health and director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, said in a news release. “Because of the longitudinal design of this study, and the fact that we were able to take into account other factors that would be related to risk for substance use, this study provides evidence of a specific contribution of energy drink consumption to subsequent substance use.”
The study also raised concerns about even younger consumers, such as teens and children, consuming energy drinks. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents do not consume energy drinks at all, but between 30 to 50 percent do. They also reported that in 2007, 1,145 adolescents aged 12 to 17 went to the emergency room for an energy drink-related emergency, and in 2011, that number climbed to 1,499.
“Future studies should focus on younger people, because we know that they too are regularly consuming energy drinks,” Arria said. “We want to know whether or not adolescents are similarly at risk for future substance use.”