Energy Drinks and Caffeine: A Gateway Drug

Should caffeine be considered a gateway drug?

Some think so, especially as the reports of caffeine overdose in teenagers increase.

I remember the days when the D.A.R.E officer would come into my school and warn about the dangers of smoking and drinking as they were the gateway drugs to hard illegal ones.

It now appears that certain officials are pushing to add energy drinks and caffeine to the list of gateway drugs.

Studies Links Energy Drink to Substance Abuse

A recent study conducted by the American Society of Addiction Medicine found a strong correlation between teen energy drink use and their use of illegal drugs.

Their finding came from analyzing the results of self-reporting surveys from a nationally representative sample of teens in grades 8, 10, 12.  Here’s a summary of their findings.

  1. 30% of participating teens reported using energy drinks and energy shots.
  2. 40% reported daily use of these beverages.
  3. Past 30-day drug use was much higher among the teens that consume energy drinks and shots than those that do not.

The researchers concluded that energy drink use heightens a teen’s risk for substance abuse. They admitted that this study didn’t prove that energy drinks cause substance abuse, but only that there was a strong correlation between the two.

Another study published in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology sought to see if caffeine consumed during adolescence permanently altered the brain’s functioning in adulthood.

The researchers from The University of Colorado concluded the following:

“Caffeine consumption during adolescence produced changes in the NAc that are evident in adulthood and may contribute to increases in cocaine-mediated behaviors.”

Basically, they found that caffeine consumed during brain development increased the level of enjoyment experienced by those adults when using cocaine as adults. The study can be found here.

Another study conducted by the University of Maryland School of Public Health and published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence also found a correlation between energy drink consumption and drug abuse.

In this study, college students were enrolled in the study and followed for 5 years. Researchers found that those that reported regular energy drink use were more likely to use cocaine, prescription stimulants, and abuse alcohol at age 25.

Caffeine as a Gateway Drug Proposal

In addition to the above study, the LA Times reported that Roland Griffiths from John Hopkins University has recently published a paper outlining the dangers of energy drink consumption. He also had 97 addiction experts sign the paper and then he sent it to the US Food and Drug Administration calling for federal regulation of energy drinks.

He believes that energy drinks should be considered gateway drugs and that kids who consume them will be more likely to use illegal drugs in the future.

He refers to a study performed that claimed college students who drank energy drinks were more likely to engage in risky behavior.

More Evidence Needed

I think more research is needed before this kind of assumption can be made about energy drinks and their relationship to substance abuse.

The study from the ASAM sampled 22,000 students and the second study only looked at 795 college students, which is a start, but not large enough to draw solid conclusions about the dangers of energy drinks and their alleged gateway drug status.

Also, I think people who are inclined to have an addictive inclination tend to go overboard on everything like caffeine, alcohol, and eventually perhaps harder drugs; but energy drinks aren’t likely the cause of this behavior.

It may seem like teens abusing energy drinks is the lesser of two evils, but too much consumption of energy drinks can have adverse consequences on teenagers’ health.

Whether energy drink consumption is the gateway to harder drugs in the future is possible, but more research will be needed fully understand the existing correlation.

However, because of energy drink health concerns, several municipalities around the USA and around the world are proposing that energy drink sales be restricted by age similar to the way alcohol is governed.

What do you think? Do you think energy drinks should be considered a gateway drug and restricted by the government?

Get Help Quitting Caffeine

Reduce your caffeine intake without pain and discomfort.

See our new 10-step plan
  • JD

    As with any substance on this earth, it’s only a gateway drug if you’re a gateway person.

    I bet Roland Griffiths had a cup of coffee or two when he was publishing that “paper”. 😛

  • JW

    I really wanted to say they were from satan, but I find this kind of serious, and that they are not indeed a gateway drug, or really a drug at all. Kids can get hooked on soda and candy just as bad.

  • Chris

    IIRC, most respectable studies found that marijuana wasn’t a gateway drug either (in fact, there may be no such thing).

    It makes sense when you look at drug using populations. x million users of substance a. y million users of substance b. If a were a gateway drug, why is x >>>>>> y?

  • dudewithareallylongscreenname

    This is insane! If they are willing to make a huge deal about the “negative” health effects of energy drinks, that is extremely hypocritical. I think there are quite a few things that are worse for you than energy drinks (i.e. Twinkies) that will never be regulated. Furthermore, only SOME energy drinks are bad for you! Several health companies put out energy drinks that are 100% natural! Caffeine has recently been proven to have several beneficial effects, ranging from sports performance to heart disease. How about they concentrate on a real problem, say alcohol abuse… or better yet oxygen? I hear everyone that has a drug problem has inhaled oxygen before… Better add it to the gateway drug list!

  • Tramp

    i’m with jw on that. i almost voted the satan one just for a laugh.

  • e.a.nowakattack

    Sure caffeine is an addictive substance. Then add in all the yummy sugar and kids will habitually drink energy drinks. The same has been true of soda for years.
    I do not think that this makes it a gateway drug, nor so I believe that there is a strong difference between soda and energy drinks.
    The idea of gateway drugs is silly in the first place. What, so If I smoke pot when I’m 15, by the time I’m 20 I’ll be hooked on crack?


  • marijuana shood be legal. the government shouldn’t have a say what u do with ur body. it would stop most of gang violence too.

  • Danielle

    I don’t know if you can call energy drinks gateway drugs. But I do know that you can get hooked on them and they do have serious affects on your health. They are bad for you, the tauriene in them is bad for your liver, that much I do know. But that isn’t my point, they are highly addictive just like pop/soda can be. A lot of kids, teens and college students do get hooked on these and do not realize what they are doing to themselves until it’s too late when the damage has already been done. I know of a few first hand who have serious medical issues now because they were addicted to these energy drinks for the longest time.

  • Yea energy drinks are addictive and bad for you. However, who gives a crap. Cigarettes and alcohol are way worse and theyre legal. Lets just put an age limit on energy drinks. That’s what I think the dudes upstairs should do. My opinion.

  • RamblinglyVeryBored

    You can prove anything you want from a select group of people.
    I could go to Wal-Mart and grab 100 of the door greaters. GO have their IQ tested. Then write a paper showing how All Wal-Mart employees have a lower IQ.
    And there’d be idiots who believed me.

    There is already a age limit on energy drinks in a lot of states, most of them its 16. I did come across one in Colorado who wouldn’t sell to anyone under 18. That might of been a personal store choice though.

  • fae

    its not a gateway.. its a lift.

  • Anon


  • sgfbak

    well i think this is retarted im 13 and i drink moster along with other energy drinks and i have no problem in fact theres no change at all i drink them because they tast good. every one acts as if its a drug but its not for example i drank one during school lunch the other day and my teacher picks it up talks to another teacher points to a drug free sign and then gives it back thats just stupid if caffeine is a drug then why are they just upset about energy drinks you can get just as hyped up by drinking soda or coffie and theres also candy pluse it should be the parents resposability to tell the kid no if they dont whant them to drink it

  • andrew

    i know first hand caffine is addictive, im an addict myself, but i think it keeps kids off drugs. my friend was trying 2 quit weed and booze, so i showed him energy drinks. now the only drug in his system is caffine,a hell of allot(same 4 me XD) but it keeps kids kleen. and many kids use them as anti-drugs. honestly ,would u rather seee ur kid with a red bull or a bong??

  • Bri

    I don’t believe that energy drinks are equivalent to soda, nor do I believe that they should be considered “gate-way drugs”.
    What I do believe is that there could, more like SHOULD be regulations such as a set ratio of milligrams of caffeine per liter of liquid. This is mostly becuase the number of heart attacks caused by caffeine has SCIENTIFICALLY been found to have increased in young patients. (see: ) These studies aren’t a bunch of BS, they are created by people who have gone to school/college for a frickin lot longer than I bet everyone else who has posted on this subject and they know a thing or two about how to conduct a study that is accurate. Thus, I disagree that 795 students isn’t enough to draw a conclusion from a study. I’ve read several studies that were published with less than 50 participants and the conclusions were not deemed unscientific or lacking evidence.
    Also, and this is mostly talking to commenters, just because there are worse things out there doesn’t mean that drinking energy drinks can be considered GOOD for you. It’s just not AS BAD as weed/cocaine/alcohol/etc.
    Everyone needs to set their own limits on what “bad” things they are going or are not going to do. And you need to stick to them. Be smart, figure out for yourself what these energy drinks do to you cuz I sure as hell don’t want you doing stuff or not doing stuff JUST becuase someone told you to (except for parents/those in positions of authority over you). That doesn’t mean you should ignore everything others tell you, it means that you have to be smart enough to know when you don’t know, and humble enough to admit it and perhaps take some advice from other people than yourself for a change.

  • apple

    People are crazy. Energy drinks are no way a “gateway” to any drugs. Pure nonsense.

  • God

    This is funny.

  • Mynor

    I agree with this 100 percent

  • Hello

    This article is crap

  • Justin

    Whats the difference with energy drinks and soda??????


Last Modified: August 9, 2017


  • Terry-McElrath, Y. M., Oʼmalley, P. M., & Johnston, L. D. (2013). Energy drinks, soft drinks, and substance use among United States secondary school students. Journal of addiction medicine, 8(1), 6-13.
  • O'Neill, C. E., Levis, S. C., Schreiner, D. C., Amat, J., Maier, S. F., & Bachtell, R. K. (2014). Effects of Adolescent Caffeine Consumption on Cocaine Sensitivity. Neuropsychopharmacology.
  • lead image credit