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?

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  • asfkj

    when has this been published? and who wrote this article?

  • Ted

    Feb. 3, 2014 and it was written by me, Ted Kallmyer

  • explosive diahrea


  • explosive diahrea

    kids these are good for you

  • explosive diahrea

    my name is von sedrick
    i live in kalispell montana come find me!!!!!!!!!

  • explosive diahrea

    im also a meth dealer;)

  • explosive diahrea

    anyone here me

  • Desiree S.

    Thank you for writing on this particular subject. I am recovering and I have 24 uninterrupted years clean. I have taken people to the Emergency Room from consuming Energy Drinks. I am scared to death of them. I consider them mind altering, mood changing substances. I have stayed clean without them and will stay on this path. I have NEVER tried them and won’t. I agree with you totally. I understand what you are conveying to the readers. Trigger is another term for what you’re saying. Substitute is another term from what I’ve read from other posts.

  • Jubal Farkas

    I drink over a 1500mg a day.

  • That Kid

    Quick question Ted… have you ever actually had an energy drink? I am 15 years of age, it doesn’t always give me a boost but for me it certainly is a mood lifter and quite enjoyable at certain times. And the crash I completely understand “It’s caffeine” . But I believe that the only limitations that should be is how much your’re drinking and when you’re drinking it. Now if you are sensitive to caffeine or pregnant that’s a different story. However due to several recent studies it all comes down to who is drinking it and how much of it. I have seen the same affects in coffee addicts. Furthermore most of the ingredients in many of these drinks are not good for you I agree. But drinking them up to 3 times a week will not do much damage unless you have a mental illness, poor eating habits, poor hydration, or over consumption.

  • Ted

    I’ve had hundreds of energy drinks since I’ve reviewed many for this site. But, I drink coffee on a regular basis. I agree with and always support the notion of moderation. However, for you being just 15, most energy drinks contain more caffeine than what is recognized as safe for your age group. The research is still out on how caffeine and other ingredients affect developing minds and bodies.

  • julio

    Question – Does drinking caffeine at a young age actually drive people to TRY drugs like Cocaine? Or does it just increase enjoyment?

    I’m currently 15 years of age, and I love these new “Spider Energy Drinks” that have 240ml of cf and are sold for a buck where I work!

    I want to know if drinking 2 of these a week will be damaging!

  • julio

    have fun with your heart attack!

  • Joe

    An addictive personality and genetics play a huge factor on whether you’ll utilize caffeine as a gateway drug. Chances of it happening is very unlikely. Caffeine, much like any other substance, is only a problem when used beyond moderation. Having an energy drink twice a week is perfectly fine, even for your age. So to answer your question, no drinking two of those energy drinks a week will not damage your health.

  • Jubal Farkas

    I will!

  • but would you have an addictive prospensity to try cocaine anyways if caffeine was not so available? that is the question they cannot answer at this point without further study.

    I hope you are, or can get soon, OFF the cocaine. It will ruin your life and/or kill you eventually.

  • sounds like you are addicted to caffeine … if you cannot “take it or leave it”, then something is wrong … if you cannot function “normally” without enormouse amounts of caffiene, then something is wrong … you should discuss this in depth with a medical professional … don’t let it rule your life, because it sure sounds like that right now … my dad used to drink 3 to 4 pots of coffee a day himself – doctor said he had to cut back and it took about 1 to 2 months to wean himself off of it and his mood changes were amazing, but he did it … the last 20 years of his life he had only 1 to 2 cups a day plus an occasional herbal tea … but he was in control, not the coffee … and he lived to be 93, 1 week short of 94, and still active his whole life.

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.
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