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
  • day

    This is stupid and whoever wrote this needs to go back to school.

  • Allen A

    The people who categorize caffeine ass a DRUG are the people that make Energy drinks a gateway drug.

    Connecting Energy drinks with drugs, makes people think drugs are less dangerous, not that caffeine is more dangerous. Putting caffeine in a category of its own would remove it as a gateway drug.

  • J

    Caffeine is technically a drug, so is ginsing and gurana which are all in energy drinks. There is no proof that monster, or red bull will lead to smoking pot, eating shrooms, or snorting coke. Saying that is like saying people who drink alot of water are going to drown someday. Energy drinks are to give you energy, if you make them illegal people are going to move to something harder like cocaine. Which is still ilegal and is still used, so making something illegal is not going to help.

  • Energy Is Not A Crime

    This is stupid. More people die from tobacco and alcohol yet they are still available at the stores.

    So what if you get a little caffeine rush. At least it is legal and people don’t rob for it.

    In fact, I find more people who drink energy drinks do very “Positive Applications” like write code, play video games, go paint balling, or motorcycle racing.

    Drug users have “Negative Applications” like theft and the rest of the sins written in the bible. Tweekers and crackheads will use meth or cocaine at any cost. Energy drinks are like eating Skittles to them.

    What now, a new public Energy Drinkers? Watchout everyone, that person is drinking a Monster!

    People have a right to feel Energetic, Powerful, and enjoy that “Head Rush” that is much less expensive and safer than Cocaine and Meth.

    Keep “High Power Energy Drinks” legal so that I can play my video games and hack the kernel with an energy buzz…

    Energy is not a crime.

  • renata

    theres loads of caffeine in these drinks that are lethal especially to children…..totally different ingredients to just soda…have you not reports on these energy drinks??????

  • Arran Fraser

    No, i don’t think they are a gateway drug. Many people that are or have been heroin addicts, alcoholics, weed-smokers ectasy-takers etc have subsequently become addicted to energy drinks. They are everywhere and so cheap. The higher the quantity one buys, the cheaper a unit becomes. The one kind-of-advantageous point about the increase in the consumption of energy drinks is the inclusion of the various Vitamin Bs that are prevalent in most of them. The most I have drunk in one day-24 hours, no sleep-is 16 cans of 250ml Emerge, 1 Litre of G101 Energy Drink and around 8 instant coffees. I had a lot of writing to do and I got the job done. In conclusion, they are another legal addiction in their own right with no direct link to any other specific drug(s).

  • Leo

    It’s a load of bull that energy drinks might make you take drugs in the future. I drink around 1000mg of caffeine a week sometimes more. And I have never felt the urge to take any sort of drug. I scored 6/10 on the caffeine addiction chart and have been consuming energy drinks and coffee for over 4 years.

  • trouble

    I drink 4 large cans and 2 small cans of energy drinks a day it don’t matter what brand just an energy drink will do I have one the minute I wake and if I cant get one then I get headaches ,the shakes and feel like I’m on the come down of something stronger its gone past the point of the energy drink even giving me a slight kick now but I honestly cant last a single day without one and people always saw me with one and moaned about how bad I’ve got but it has hit me how much I depend on them I always laughed and said that if they were so bad why are they so easy to get like normal fizzy drinks although I don’t think they lead to people using illegal substances later on they really aren’t good and I feel at least an age limit should be applied for 16 and over as I see children as young as 8 drinking them on street corners for those of you who will be moaning about what I’ve written that just shows how naive you are like I was take the warnings! or your find out the hard way like me

  • EnergyDrinker

    This may seem like an un-expected comment. I am only posting this because I don’t know where I would be without energy drinks… I used to be addicted to speed and when my friends were told by their doctors to replace the drugs they were addicted to and to take Methadone which in my opinion sounds worst than any other drugs out there it even sounds worst than crystal meth cause the doctor tells you its ok for you to consume these drugs in order to quit the other ones because its a prescription and its safe but I think thats bullshit.

    Now my point is… I was able to quit hard drugs by drinking 1 or two energy drinks per day. As soon as the cravings for drugs came and I drank one the cravings went away. I was also able to quit drinking hard stuff because of these energy drinks because somehow they gave me that euphoria i was looking for. So because of these energy drinks I was able to keep clean from the bad stuff for over 5 years. I dont say that these energy drinks are the way to life and that they will fix your problems. I’m just saying that this energy drink can be good if you use it in a good manor but it can be bad if you use it as a drug and to “act a fool” because all of us deep inside know that the people who do bad stuff once they are impared, were allready planning to do crazy stuff before they started consuming. For example, if you have these 4 nerds who are going to drink and plan to have fun playing games on a computer together while drinking, the chances are that thats what’s going to happen. Now if you take group 2 for instance, the 3 guys who got out from the gym who want to go to the club and shot how tough they are… chances are thats whats going to happen. Some people will want to drink or use drugs in order to do crazy stuff because they think it gives them an excuse to do it. Some people think that if they drink they will be able to do anything and tell people they dont remember. These things dont happen with energy drinks, they are like coffey but the same thing with coffey is that if you consume too much the same effects will happen (heart attack failure high blood presure ect) People do all know that this will happen and they chose to abuse the product anyways. I agree however and personally believe that energy drinks should be treated like liquor and people would have to show an ID in order to buy them. Adults do understand the conciquences from consuming this product but children do not. And as all the statistics show, all the problems and deaths that energy drinks has caused were all to people under the age of 18. All these things would have happened to those same people if Liquor was purchasable by children. But facts are facts and the fact is that Energy drinks are a drug no doubt about it. But the same goes with liquor and liquor has no positive effects what so ever when energy drinks will make your work day go by fast make it less boring.

  • EnergyDrinker

    This is true, classifying energy drinks as gateway drugs will lead to people wanting to try gateway drugs because they didnt see what was so bad about the energy drinks. As soon as kids see this on the news they will think they are drug addicts and want to try other drugs. Kinda like the people who start smoking and only took 1 puff and still tell everyone they are addicted to smoking. The way people’s brains work is wierd no one will ever understand but you gotta admit what I said made sence. I seen people at the age of 15 having 1 drink at their birthday party and then for 1 year after that telling everyone they are alcholic because they drank. I know you all seen this happen too, you probably even did it yourself cause it made you feel older or cooler or like whoever you wanted to be that you saw on TV. If energy drinks should be illegal, then Lil Wayne should be illegal.

  • EnergyDrinker

    Soda has more sugar

  • EnergyDrinker

    if you could buy weed at the store there would be no gangs everyone would love the government and vote. People dont go vote rightnow because they take panic attacks because they think people will think they are stoned. And lets face the facts, 80% of the population smoke weed and the other 20% used to.

  • EnergyDrinker

    Thats like saying that if you drive a bicycle youll drive a car when you’re older. Statistics show proof of this. Lets put it on the news people don’t know this they should know!!! They should keep away from cars because cars lead to accidents and deaths. No matter how much you drive, it could happen even without abusing how long or how fast you are driving. Hell I dont even have a car cause Im scared to do an accident and raise my insurance because of someone else hitting in me, Id rather just drink my energy drinks and drive my bicycle so then I can drive in the trails and avoid the very dangerous cars that COULD kill me while im drinking my energy drink.

  • 7 of 9

    energy drinks appear to be much healthier.

  • 7 of 9

    I collect energy drink cans and now have over 50 monsters alone in my collection. I personally don’t have a problem with monsters but I feel that if they are made a restricted substance it will fall into the same category as alcohol and tobacco products.

  • Mr. Fuzzy

    That’s a long comment.

  • Kizzahxoxo

    Recovering Alcoholic here, and energy drinks really helped me get though a lot of the hump in the first two years (I’m one of the youngest in things I attend related to this), and where it did help, it flipped into caffeine caffeine caffeine. A substitute really. For me the caffeine became a real problem, but of course it would, alcoholic genetics (same as any addiction). I’ve not had any caffeine in 24 hours, so that’s most likely why I’m on this website out of nowhere.

    Love what you wrote. Very well said. All of it.

    I can’t see energy drinks being a gateway. Honestly I don’t believe in the gateway thing. I think it’s a great concept to further try and keep people from doing dangerous drugs, and “lesser” ones. But it’s a fairly normal thing with human nature right? To move to other stuff if you enjoy it, or want more of a rush. Like an auto tuner, wants more speed but does that mean nicer tires are a gateway to engine transplants?

    Plain and simple, everyone on the planet has the potential to become a fiend.

  • Ted

    Thanks for sharing your experience and hang in there during the withdrawal process. I’m sure many can relate to what you have and are going through.

  • Ray

    Caffeine is what eventually led me to cocaine.

  • Null

    i feel you

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