Nearly 33 percent of young adults in the U.S. are at risk of being addicted to cocaine, take prescription medication for non-medical use, and become alcoholics. One in three people between the ages of 21 and 24 habitually consumes energy drinks, and a new study suggests they are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol later in life.
For the study, researchers from the University of Maryland followed the health and risk-taking habits of 1,099 college students over a four-year period. At the end of the analysis, the participants that drank highly caffeinated drinks were more likely to be addicted to cocaine, alcohol, or other substances than students who avoided the beverages.
“This study gives evidence of a specific contribution of energy drink consumption to later substance use,” said Amelia Arria, an associate professor and lead author of the study, as cited by NZ Herald. “The results suggest that energy drink users might be at heightened risk for other substance use, particularly stimulants.”
While the study seemed to find an association between energy drinks and future substance abuse, the researchers could not determine exactly why such a link should exist. Some possibilities for a connection include peer pressure, a higher inclination for risk-taking, and even effects on the brain that cause a craving for more potent stimulants.
Currently, there is very little government oversight or regulation of energy drinks. Critics of the beverages contend federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) need to impose caffeine limits on the products. Additionally, they want better, more informative risk warnings specifically targeted to young people added to the label and advertisements.
Unsurprisingly, energy drink proponents find the study preposterous. American Beverage Association vice president William Dermody said the study’s methods were flawed and incomplete, noting it did not prove any relationship between energy drink consumption and drug abuse.
“Mainstream energy drinks have been extensively studied and confirmed safe for consumption by government safety authorities worldwide,” noted Dermody, as reported by USA Today. “Nothing in this study counters this well-established fact.”
Most energy drinks on the market contain less caffeine than a cup of coffee and 98 percent of Americans’ intake of caffeine comes from sources other than energy drinks, according to Dermody. The FDA already extensively regulates the ingredients and labeling of energy drinks, he added.
In the past decade, energy drink sales have surged. U.S. retail sales in 2016 topped $11 billion, up from $5 billion in 2007. Leading energy drink brands include Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar.
[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]