Highly caffeinated energy drinks may keep you awake, but they may also pose a significant threat to your health.
Whether they are mixed with alcohol or not, the Journal of American Medical Association has cited three public health concerns surrounding all packaged energy drinks containing moderate to high levels of caffeine.
The first concern is that consumers often mix the drinks with alcohol. This has been linked consistently to drinking more alcohol than usual, which can lead to serious consequences. The second concern is that caffeine can have adverse health effects in certain individuals, and the third concern is that energy-drink use appears to be associated with alcohol dependence and other drug use.
"We have been educating and continue to educate people on the dangers of this," said Kevin Eastman, executive director of Weber Human Services. "People can often drink more because of the stimulants in the energy drinks, which can lead to alcohol poisoning occurring without the individual being aware."
Eastman said parents, store clerks and perhaps even police are also easily confused by the drinks because it's hard to know which ones have alcohol unless you take the time to read the labels. Utah was the first state to ban alcoholic energy drinks in 2010. However, people are bringing them in from other states as well as mixing alcohol with energy drinks on the market.
Paula Price, prevention coordinator for Weber Human Services, said the organization gets many requests from schools to educate students on the dangers of the drinks.
"What most people don't realize is the amount of caffeine they contain. In marketing, these products mention things like 'contains fruit juice, contains B vitamins and ginseng, improves performance,' " she said. "What many people, including parents, don't realize is that some of these drinks are equivalent to drinking nine cans of Coke. Most of them also contain guarana, an herb that is also a stimulant."
Because of the high caffeine content, Price said, there is a mistaken belief that if you drink alcohol, which is a depressant, and then an energy drink, the effects will cancel each other. The truth is, you are just as intoxicated as you would be without the energy drink. However, you don't notice the depressant's effects as much, she said.
Kayleen Paul, a McKay-Dee Hospital critical care nurse and trauma care coordinator, said although the emergency department doesn't have the ability to track visits involving energy drinks, the staff knows that is happening.
"Staff tell me they've seen visits from young adults presenting with symptoms of rapid heartbeat, dizziness and agitation due to consumption of energy drinks," Paul said. "It's quite frightening for (patients) because it feels like they are having a heart attack."
Paul said energy drinks have a combination of unhealthy ingredients that include caffeine, lots of sugar, and often herbs. They're packaged to look very appealing and seem innocuous but once consumed they can cause a plethora of problems. Irritability, restlessness, high blood pressure, panic attacks and anxiety, rapid heartbeat and increased urination have also been reported. Paul said the drinks give a buzz that also has unpleasant withdrawals.
"The increased urination can lead to dehydration, which increases fatigue. Even more dangerous is mixing the drinks with alcohol because they make you feel zippy even when drunk," she said. "And it doesn't do anything good for the wildly throbbing blood vessels in your heart and brain either."
According to a study conducted by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, caffeine is considered an addictive drug, and doses of 500 milligrams or more can result in caffeine intoxication. In addition, a study by the Marin Institute stated the Chicago Poison Center found more than 250 cases of caffeine overdose over a three-year period.
Twelve percent of those required hospitalization, with some patients landing in the intensive care unit.
"People need to understand that caffeine is a drug and can be addicting," Price said. "For most healthy adults 200 to 300 milligrams a day can be safe, but consuming over 100 milligrams a day can lead to dependence."
Per serving, drip coffee has approximately 115 to 175 mg. of caffeine, according to Energyfield.com. Percolated coffee has about 80 to 135 mg. Monster Energy Drink has 160 mg. and Red Bull has 80 mg. Extreme Energy 6-Hour Shot has 220 mg. Fix Extreme has 400 mg. per 0.17 ounces. For 24 ounces of Rage Inferno you get 375 mg. of caffeine. Coca-a-Cola classic has 12 mg. of caffeine for a 12 ounce serving.
Paul said her suggestion would be to steer clear of the energy drinks. Their energy burst is short-lived and sometimes dangerous. If you're tired, drink more water, she said. Take a walk. Eat a power snack that contains protein, fiber and a little fat, like peanut butter on a wheat cracker or nuts or a cheese stick.
In addition, the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests educating yourself about the risks involved with energy drinks, with or without alcohol. It also recommends that health care professionals should inform their patients about the risks.
For more information go to http://www.energyfiend.com/the-caffeine-database and marininstitute.org.