There is growing concern over potential harm from
knocking back too many energy drinks. Energy drink
use is associated with increased risk behavior and
delay discounting among adolescents and college
Like their soda brethren, energy drinks can be sugar
and calorie bombs, with up to 53 grams of the sweet
stuff and 260 calories per can.
Unlike coffee or soda, many energy drinks contain
multiple stimulants and vitality-enhancing
ingredients such as taurine, guarana, ginseng, and B
vitamins; how these ingredients interact is largely
A new study published in the Journal of Caffeine
Research, Johns Hopkins scientists examined the
relationship between energy drinks and risk and
between energy drink use and delay discounting.
The study included a nationwide sample of 874 young
adults, ages 18 to 28 with past 30-day consumption
of caffeine and alcohol, who completed an online
Participants completed an online survey of energy
drink use, drug use, sexual activity, alcohol misuse
(alcohol use disorders identification test),
sensation seeking (four-item Brief Sensation Seeking
Scale), and delay discounting of monetary rewards
and condom use.
Respondents who consumed one or more energy drinks
per week were twice as likely to smoke cigarettes
and more than twice as likely to abuse prescription
and illicit drugs such as Ritalin and cocaine.
Energy drinkers were also more likely to smoke
marijuana (56 percent claimed they had), use
prescription opioids such as Vicodin (27 percent),
drive without wearing a seatbelt (53 percent), drive
while intoxicated (30 percent), and participate in a
hazardous sport like snowboarding, bungee jumping,
or parkour, a form of physical training run over a
risky obstacle course (26 percent).
Reckless sexual behavior reported by weekly energy
drink consumers also was high. Sixty-three percent
said they had engaged in unprotected sex with
someone other than their spouses, and 69 percent
said they'd had sex while drunk or high.
There's more. Maggie Sweeney, a postdoctoral
research fellow in the School of Medicine's
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and
co-author of the study, says that respondents who
reported using energy drinks more than once per week
were also associated with a sort of impulsive
decision making called delay discounting, for
example, taking $20 now rather than waiting a week
to receive $60.
The researchers are not making any causal link
between downing a couple of Rockstars and
subsequently having unsafe sex or driving while
drunk. Maggie Sweeney, a postdoctoral research
fellow in the School of Medicine's Department of
Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and co-author of
the study says a tired person who might have left a
party to go home and to bed after a couple of drinks
might instead recharge with an energy drink, then
stay and drink more.
Other studies have concluded that high-caffeine
beverages can affect drinkers' perception of how
impaired they are; the jolt from an energy drink
might mask the effects of too much alcohol, leading
someone to think they're OK to drive.
For more information
Journal of Caffeine Research
Weekly Energy Drink Use Is Positively Associated
with Delay Discounting and Risk Behavior in a
Nationwide Sample of Young Adults
Johns Hopkins University