Energy Drink Abuse Among Teens and Children

Are teens and kids abusing and overdosing on energy drinks as often as the media portrays?

problems with teens and energy drinks

Daily, it seems there are news stories proclaiming the dangers of energy drinks for teens and about politicians or government agencies calling for the banning of energy drinks and their regulation.

However, is energy drink abuse really the huge problem it’s proclaimed to be? Let’s take a look at what the data and latest research says about energy drink overdose among teens and children.

Energy Drink Overdose and The American Association of Poison Control Centers

If you’re not familiar with the The American Association of Poison Control Centers, they are the governmental agency responsible for collecting the information on all the ways people are poisoned each year.

They publish a very detailed annual report documenting reported cases during that given year.

Their latest report is for the year 2013. Let’s look at how many people reported overdose from energy drinks in 2013 and compare it to the previous year.

Single Exposures Reported (Energy drinks)20122013
Total Reported1,6351,685
5 yrs. or less828879
6-12 yrs.171173
13-19 yrs.260246
20 yrs. or over328343
Accidental1,0881,180
Intentional323272
Treated at Hospital345368
Major reactions17
Moderate Reactions155146
Deaths00

The above data is for single exposures only and includes energy drinks with multiple sources of caffeine, but not in combination with alcohol.

A recent study conducted by the American Heart Association found that between the years of 2010-2013, 40% of all the energy drink exposure calls to the poison control centers involved children age 6 or under. Src.

According to the AAPCC total energy drink exposures have been on the decrease since 2012. (This is any call that mentions any type of energy drink).

energy drink exposures reported

Source: AAPCC

 

Energy Drink Overdose: Overrated and Over-reported?

Looking at the above data, we can draw a few conclusions.

  1. Energy drink overdose is happening and causing health problems for teens and children.
  2. Energy drink overdose isn’t as common as one might think. Out of the tens of millions of teenagers living the the USA only 431 (2012) adverse reactions were reported to the AAPCC.
  3. While the problem seems to be hyped up by the media, we still should make efforts to educate and warn teens about the potential dangers of energy drinks.
  4. The highest number of energy drink overdose reports occurred with children age 5 or under.

Because caffeine is being put into products that are especially appealing to teens (i.e. sweet, fruity beverages like energy drinks), teens can pretty quickly consume too much caffeine without realizing it.  No one would argue that other substances are far more dangerous, but other drugs aren’t specifically marketed to the younger demographic either like energy drinks are.

The Journal of Pediatrics who studied caffeine overdose reports from 2007, concluded the following:

Energy drinks have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated. The known and unknown pharmacology of agents included in such drinks, combined with reports of toxicity, raises concern for potentially serious adverse effects in association with energy drink use. Their Study

I still think education is a better tool than legislation or regulation. Parents and teens need to be informed and educated about using caffeine responsibly in any form whether it be energy drinks, coffee, or caffeine supplements.

Since 2009, there have been some reported cases of death related to energy drink/shot consumption and the subject is still receiving a lot of media attention. Recently, a survey conducted in Australia showed that teen athletes are abusing energy drinks and No-Doz to help them compete better at sporting events. src.

Energy Drink Abuse Can Cause Heart Problems

The Canadian Journal of Cardiology recently published a comprehensive study that looked at the incidences of cardiac events after energy drink consumption among teens.

They found that energy drink abuse among teens did cause increased risk of cardiac events especially in those with underlying heart conditions and there were even some cases of energy drinks causing changes in heart rhythm among teens with healthy hearts. This risk increases when the child engages in sports or exercise.

The researchers therefore have the following recommendations for safe use of Energy Drinks among this age group.

  1. Do not consume more than 1 can (250 mL) of an energy drink per day (1 Standard Red Bull).
  2. Avoid ED consumption before or during sports practice.
  3. Individuals with diagnosed cardiovascular anomalies should consult cardiologists before drinking EDs.
  4. Do not combine ED consumption and alcohol or other drugs.
  5. Parents should be taught potential adverse effects related to ED consumption.
  6. Parents and Schools should provide continual advice against overconsumption/abuse of EDs.

The Complete Study Here.

Case Study

Sometimes it can only take one energy drink to cause problems for some teens.

A 17-year-old male patient presented to the emergency department with sudden onset of palpitations after drinking high caffeine preparations at the gym. He had no relevant medical history or family history of sudden cardiac death. He denied any use of regular medications, alcohol or illicit drugs.

He was found to have a heart condition that was triggered by the high caffeine in his pre-workout energy drink.  He was unaware of his heart condition prior.  Src.

Energy Drink Use Related to Depression and Substance Abuse in Teens

energy overdose teensA recent study conducted by The University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University in Canada found that teens who consume energy drinks are also more as risk for developing depression and substance abuse than teens who never drink energy drinks. Src.

Researchers used the results of a 8,210 participant survey to come to their conclusions, but it is unclear whether energy drinks are causing more depression and substance abuse or those prone to depression and substance abuse also choose energy drinks as a coping device.

A more recent study published in The Neuropsychopharmacology Journal found that teens that consume caffeine are more inclined to be addicted to drugs like cocaine as adults.

The University of Colorado researchers discovered that when caffeine is consumed by those with developing brains, it permanently alters brain chemistry causing those individuals to receive more pleasure from cocaine than one otherwise would.

They Could Also Cause Hyperactivity in Teens

A study published by Academic Pediatrics reported that energy drinks and sugary beverages are linked to hyperactive behavior in teens and children.

The study authors reported the following results:

Students reporting consumption of energy drinks were 66% more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity/inattention after adjusting for number of drinks, other types of drinks consumed, and other potential confounders.”

While this was just a small self-reporting type of survey study it does warrant more research concerning the energy drink and hyperactivity issue.

Young people will always tend to do/consume things that aren’t good for them and this will continue far after energy drinks are yesterday’s news and history shows us that villainizing a product usually only makes kids want it more, so perhaps teaching responsibility may be better than regulation.

What do you think? Should energy drinks be off limits for teens? 

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  • M. Robillard

    Now that’s a cleaver way of using statistics to prove a useless point. You’re right, nobody died of overdosing on caffeine in 2009. Does that say it’s not harmful? not at all. You could get stabbed in the hand with a pen and I doubt you’d die from it. Does that mean stabbing people in the hands isn’t harmful? Do some real research before publishing stuff, please.

  • Great information here. I think it is very important to bring this kind of information to hand. So many parents/people are worried about energy drinks and here tylenol has caused so much more harm. Thanks for the information. I will be sharing this with my followers for sure.

  • @M. Robillard

    The writer never said caffeine wasn’t harmful and you missed the point of the article. At least the author provided some sort of data and not anecdotes.

  • I think so … so many kids drink several of these a day.

    I’d hate to see the long-term studies of these kids. They are also very expensive. That’s another reason to quit! 🙂

  • RedBullFan

    @Mr. Robillard Should we, then, ban pens or limit their sale to 18+?

  • Jeremy

    It is more then just the caffeine in the energy drinks that is the problem. Yes caffeine is the main ingredient that gets the bad rep but there is also a large amount of sugar, supplements, and vitamins. Other then the caffeine overdose you need to worry about the problem of dehydration. Some kids drink nothing but these energy drinks all day causing them to become dehydrated. Most of the articles saying energy drinks are bad give you some of the long term affects that they will have on you to include increased heart rate which may lead to heart attacks, stroke and heart disease. I can continue on but I think I may have gotten my point across.

  • Energy Drinks and Alcohol

    Researchers at the University of Tasmania, Australia, are seeking participants aged 18 years or older to complete a 25 minute survey on energy drinks and alcohol. Participants have the chance to win an Apple IPad 2. To complete the survey, go to https://surveys.psychol.utas.edu.au and select “Survey on Energy Drinks and Alcohol”. People with no history of alcohol and/or energy drink use are welcome to participate!

  • EnergyFox

    Yes. Lets ban, regulate, tax, limit energy drinks to death. Is the solution for every problem getting the overbearing government involved? I hate the internet because braindead fools will argue to no end the dangers of caffeine (among other things) yet coffee has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. Beyond that is the Aztecs and their beloved Cocoa, which they drank all day and contained caffeine and other stimulants like theobromine. Good god, if nothing else have you thought maybe they should try educating folks instead of insisting on regulation? I drink alot of H20, and guess what? It diminishes the adverse side effects of almost everything, including energy drinks and other stimulants. Just think about it, would you workout without H20? Would you run a marathon? Caffeine is a diuretic and a adenosine blocker, increasing adrenaline and causing a raise in alertness or energy so to speak. Sounds a bit similar to me, aside from the possible lack of actual exercise. So drink some friggin’ water to stay hydrated, which should be happening anyway if you have any sense, and tell people but don’t tell the rest of us people with a brain what we can and can’t drink. The only thing I can agree with is the large amounts of sugar, but that goes for alot of beverages like soda or someone tossing a few packs of sugar in their coffee anyway. Theres plenty of diet drinks and diet energy drinks, for example Monster Absolute Zero or Pepsi Max. And vitamins? What the hell, people take multivitamins everyday. Some vitamins have no feasible overdose range, and I’m not even sure these drinks have those ones as most of them contain the B vitamins. So unless you’re worried about niacin I think this is a invalid arguement. Is caffeine harmless? No. Going over 500mg per day is likely not advised but you must take into account other factors like tolerance, body weight, whether they use any forms of nicotine (It increases caffeine metabolism and cuts the half-life, IIRC), and etc. You’re really getting serious once you hit 700+ but there’s still reports of that mostly being uncomfortable but not life threatening. By the time you get to 1 gram is when its going to be really hitting and unless you’re throwing down on 3-6 of those things a day plus environmental and health factors I don’t see the big whoop. The only downside for me is the occasional crash from caffeine and as with most drugs that’s just fatigue. Acetaminophen on the other hand comes in 500mg pills at Max Strength and you only need to take a few too many before your liver starts going haywire. So please, shut up.

  • EnergyFox

    Also note that maybe not everyone drinks them every day? How many people can even afford the things at 2-4$ per can? Damn people. Think.

  • ted

    @Jeremy, actually there have been a lot of recent studies that show caffeine doesn’t have long term effects on heart rate or even put people at risk for a cardiac event.
    https://www.caffeineinformer.com/2011/03/caffeine-ok-for-those-with-heart-arrhythmias
    https://www.caffeineinformer.com/2010/03/coffee-caffeine-and-heart-rhythm-disturbances
    https://www.caffeineinformer.com/2009/12/taurine-in-energy-drinks-heart-healthy

  • Bob Newhart

    Yes, I agree with all of you caffeine drinkers. I hope that you drink more caffeine as well as the CRAP that is in these energy drinks. When your adrenal glands no longer function, which will also effect your hormones as well as your waistlines, I’ll still be fitting into my size 32 jeans and have a full head of hair while you’ll be driving the handicapped carts at the grocery store searching for your prized “energy drinks”. It would be wise to do just a LITTLE research before making the asinine comments that you make here. And for the record, this site does little to promote health or well being, and I’d guess there is a kick back from the corporations making these little cans of disease. WAKE UP, SHEEP!!!

  • Allie

    @BobNewhart Youre a dumbass.

  • ted

    @Bob Newhart- I wish we got corporate kickbacks for running this site.

  • A Responsible Energy Drinker…

    You know, I know about all these studies and such, but that is why caffeine, like any other drug, must be regulated… by the person taking in the drug. Would you pop ten tylenols every day? Would you drink ten glasses of vodka in one sitting? Absolutely not if you’re a responsible person, and the same is true of energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages/foods. For example, I am a very small woman at 108 pounds on average, and I use an energy drink occasionally (I really like Venom (the fruit flavored ones), Amp (Overdrive), and several flavors of NOS if you have to know) just because it helps me stay awake for my classes at college. However, I drink them ONLY if I have no other alternative to keep myself awake or am literally falling asleep at my desk, and I do not drink anything else caffeinated for the rest of the day. I agree that too much of it is bad for you and that kids under a certain age should not be drinking these drinks (Middle schoolers are drinking them now? WTF?!), but that falls on the parents to govern. And yes, I do see kids around my college campus with two or three cans of Monster scattered around and slamming down another – that is not how an energy drink is meant to be used, you are supposed to drink it throughout the day as a boost until the drink is gone, that is, drink it slowly. The solution to this is not that caffeine must be government-regulated, the solution is responsible drinking as you would do with any other substance that alters your body in some way. If you are under 18, your parents need to be aware of your caffiene intake and give you something to drink that has less caffiene in it. If you’re an adult, you need to drink one a day if even that, or if you can’t limit it that much then drink one every half a day.

    And to the pretentious posters above claiming how those of us who DO use these drinks to stay awake are “poisoning our bodies”… well, yeah, we sort of are – that’s why people who drink a lot of these tend to pee a lot. But also be aware that caffeine is NOT inherently bad – in fact, it’s in chocolate, your morning java, coca-cola, and anything coffee-flavored, all things you have probably drunk or eaten either today or sometime in the past few months. Come down off your elitist clouds, please, and stop spreading moral panic like… well, a heard of sheep in a panic.

  • RNorth

    Isn’t a shame that the only criteria is how much caffeine it takes to die or overdose…What about all the other stimulents in the drinks: the “nature” speeds that are added? What about the other “natural” added in stuff that increases absorbtion rate? Some drinks may only have 80 mg of caffeine, but added to the other buzzers, it may have the equiv. of 200-800 mg’s. What about the added affects of caffeine to other drugs, absorbing nutrients, medications, and lets forget to also mention the affect on anxiety, anger, and other emotional factors!

  • Gobot

    This author is ridiculous.

    Tylenol is widely knows as a drug, and even if it can be bought by kids, doesn’t have the marketing behind it, whereas energy drinks are heavily promoted, readily available in bright colors, right beside cans of other drinks and not labelled as drugs in the drug section.

    Dumb comparison.

  • ted

    @gobot, your logic doesn’t make sense, because energy drinks are so widely available and marketed to teens, you then would expect that there would be many more deaths and overdose than something that isn’t marketed to kids and isn’t as widely available. You missed the whole point of the comparison.

  • cableguy

    I drank two bottles today at my job and to say the least the come down was very unpleasant. Caffeine content should be made mandatory for these energy drinks. Moderation is key, this was the first time i drank the recommended daily maximum. I experienced anxiety and mild hallucinations, very uncomfortable. The rapid heartbeat was very worrying also. You must be careful just as with any other mind or body altering substance. One shot split into two daily doses seems fine for me except some occasional insomnia. It seems that it should be as simple as mandatory listing of caffeine content. Thats my own experience, and in conclusion use it in moderation and judge the effects it has upon you. It worked to stay alert and complete tasks but be careful!

  • ted

    Thanks for sharing cableguy and it’s important to note that not everyone has the same caffeine tolerance so it’s important to understand what your “individual moderation” should be. 🙂

  • Gam3Mast3r09

    For the morons Who discredit this, he said for one that it was a comparison. One if you don’t understand the comparison just ask. Two he said it isn’t AS bad as what people make it to be. And three if you really are concerned about the other ingredients look up the damn ingredient in google and figure it the hell out. It’s common sense. 90% of what is usually in an energy drink helps your body in some way. Useless calories? Yes. But if you’re not an idiot you should expect that. Caffeine is looked at as a drug by most of the world which is why it is compared to an actual drug. There are self check out lines everywhere now so if you don’t think some random kid regardless of age could’t buy Tylenol and swallow 10 pills you lack anything close to a brain. He said it wasn’t as bad because “people” are saying it’s worse than alcohol etc. If you really think you actually have some kind of awesome and witty retort go ahead. Fact-I just proved his comparison right and useful and if you somehow don’t get that well then join a special class because i’m pretty sure unless you’re internet deficient you can look at what all OTHER ingredients are in the energy drinks. I’ve drank 20+ energy drinks in one night. I’m healthy, alive and doing well. I DARE YOU TO SWALLOW 20 TYLENOL. See what happens. If you live then by all means bash this site like no other. Until then stop your damn whining about FACTS that you dislike for the basis he put caffeine vs a pill. He could of just as easily found the ingredient in Tylenol that will kill you and compared it. Almost any drug drink vs pill will kill you faster than energy drinks. Yes use common sense -_- if it has 1800mg of caffeine then why drink the whole thing? Be smart. /discussion

Last Modified: September 28, 2015

References

  • Source: The American Association of Poison Control Centers
  • Seifert, S. M., Schaechter, J. L., Hershorin, E. R., & Lipshultz, S. E. (2011). Health effects of energy drinks on children, adolescents, and young adults. Pediatrics, peds-2009.
  • Azagba, S., Langille, D., & Asbridge, M. (2014). An emerging adolescent health risk: caffeinated energy drink consumption patterns among high school students. Preventive medicine, 62, 54-59.
  • 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.
  • Schwartz, D. L., Gilstad-Hayden, K., Carroll-Scott, A., Grilo, S. A., McCaslin, C., Schwartz, M., & Ickovics, J. R. (2015). Energy Drinks and Youth Self-Reported Hyperactivity/Inattention Symptoms. Academic Pediatrics.
  • Sanchis-Gomar, F., Pareja-Galeano, H., Cervellin, G., Lippi, G., & Earnest, C. P. (2015). Energy Drink Overconsumption in Adolescents: Implications for Arrhythmias and Other Cardiovascular Events. Canadian Journal of Cardiology.
  • http://www.aapcc.org/alerts/energy-drinks/
  • https://aapcc.s3.amazonaws.com/pdfs/annual_reports/2013_NPDS_Annual_Report.pdf