The Energy Drink Issue: Why the Youth Continue to Consume Despite the Evidence

The attraction of energy drinks to the youth of our culture is a predictable one. Flashy, expensive and promising a great high, their availability to anyone old enough to wield money has resulted in their widespread adoption amongst kids, teenagers and 20-somethings.

Not only do they appeal to the same type of subconscious ‘identity enhancement’ so many labels depend on, they are also touted as possessing the ability to improve one’s athletic and scholarly performance. Red Bull claims to give you wings. Monster Energy is plastered all over skateboarders, surfers and dirt bikers. Rockstar appears to be enjoyed by women more beautiful than even those at Budweiser. The list goes on.

The result, of course, has been massive profit for the companies producing them. And, while there has been some backlash in the last year or so, energy drink sales are set to explode according to this market research. Having grown 60% from 2008 to 2012, with total sales equaling 12.5 billion in 2012 alone, the trends predict that the phenomenon is far from over, with the number forecasted to double by 2017.

Yet the numerous health-risks related to their consumption are alarming, and on the rise. While we have yet to see any energy drink cited as the official cause of death, many have been linked to a number of them over the last decade.

From oregonlive.com:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest obtained company reports from the Food and Drug Administration listing 17 new deaths since late 2012, when the first fatalities were reported. To date, 34 people have died after consuming an energy drink, the group said.

Two drinks accounted for most of the deaths, with 22 linked to 5-Hour Energy and 11 to Monster. The newly released documents tie one fatality to Rockstar.

The FDA reports come from companies which are required to notify the agency of any ill effects associated with their products. The reports only list a date, the product, symptoms and outcome. Some people vomited, suffered chest pain and then died after drinking 5-Hour Energy with cases of cardiac arrest associated with Monster Energy Drink.

“As I see in my medical practice, energy drinks are clearly causing symptomatic arrhythmias,” Dr. Stacy Fisher, director of complex heart diseases at University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a statement. “These new reports of deaths and other injuries raise the level of concern about the adverse effects of energy drinks.”

The article goes on to cite a call for the proper administration of warning labels on the beverages, yet makes note of the fact that it took ten years to achieve the labelling of transfats alone, insinuating that the likelihood of a similar amount of time passing before the drinks are properly labelled is very high.

In the meantime, more health issues – even deaths – are bound to occur. This article at caffeineinformer.com actually lists cardiac arrest as the number 1 risk associated with energy drinks, along with others such as type 2 diabetes and drug complications.

Yet even beyond this, using energy drinks as ‘mixers’ for alcohol has become a cultural norm in night clubs all across the world, even though the deadly effects of mixing caffeine and alcohol – not to mention the numerous other ingredients in energy drinks – have been known for years now.

From Brown University:

  • Since energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol is a depressant, the combination of effects may be dangerous. The stimulant effects can mask how intoxicated you are and prevent you from realizing how much alcohol you have consumed. Fatigue is one of the ways the body normally tells someone that they’ve had enough to drink.
  • The stimulant effect can give the person the impression they aren’t impaired. No matter how alert you feel, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the same as it would be without the energy drink. People will misperceive their ability to perform complex tasks like driving or crossing a busy road. Once the stimulant effect wears off, the depressant effects of the alcohol will remain and could cause vomiting in your sleep or respiratory depression.
  • Research has found that people drink more and have higher BACs when they combine alcohol and caffeine.
  • Both energy drinks and alcohol are very dehydrating (the caffeine in energy drinks is a diuretic). Dehydration can hinder your body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and will increase the toxicity, and therefore the hangover, the next day.

Given all of this information, widely available for years now, one is ostensibly surprised at the continued and increasing popularity of these neon-coloured elixirs. Why would the youth continue to consume something so obviously bad for them? Why would they go out of their way to pay a significant sum for these drinks that come with risks that far outweigh the benefits, let alone combining them with alcohol?

A puzzling question. That is, until one takes a good hard look at the adult world. The number of energy-drink related deaths over the last decade is absolutely infinitesimal compared to those to do with alcohol and tobacco. Or firearms. Against the back-drop of these things energy drinks don’t even register as a blip on the radar. And the majority of adults still partake in these behaviours enmass.

Given this, what else could we expect of children born into a culture where such things surround them as they grow? Where infinite images of conformity, ‘coolness’ and sex appeal are draped in endless products and labels that beg their consumption? Where the adults of this world drink to excess and cheer on violence in the theatres and sporting arenas?

The energy drink phenomenon should be no surprise to us. It is almost a form of initiation. Yes, the kids know that what they’re consuming is bad for them, and yes, they’ll continue to consume it in growing numbers, even as the health related risks increase, even as more die.

We can shake our fingers at them and cite endless examples of how pointless and dangerous it all is, yet until we change our own behaviours, setting a clear example through our actions and not our words, they will persist in this risky business. Why wouldn’t they? Everything about our culture is screaming at them to do so.