Study links US teen energy drink intake to illicit drug abuse

Terry-McElrath et al. warn that 'high-sensation seeking youths' may be particularly likely to drink energy drinks and abuse drugs (Photo:

US teens who consume energy drinks are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol and use abuse drugs according to a new cross-sectional survey of 20,000+ high school students.

Yvonne Terry-McElrath and colleagues at the Institute of Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor analyzed data taken from nearly 22,000 US secondary school students aged 13-16 (8th -10th grade) in 2010-11.

Taking part in the university’s ‘Monitoring the Future’ study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the students answered questionnaires on their use of energy drinks/shots, alcohol and drugs.

‘Strong association’ with substance use

Approximately 30% of teens reported using caffeine-containing energy drinks or shots; 40%+ said they drank regular soft drinks every day, while 20% drank diet soft drinks daily.

Summing up their findings, the authors write: “Beverage consumption was strongly and positively associated with past 30-day alcohol, cigarette and illicit drug use. The observed associations between energy drinks and substance use were significantly stronger than those between regular or diet soft drinks and substance use.”

Irrespective of age, Terry-McElrath and colleagues said teens who drank energy drinks/shots were 2-3 times more likely to report other types of substance use compared to those who didn’t.

The researchers’ results also showed that boys were more likely to use energy drinks than girls, while teens without two parents at home and those with less educated parents also drank more.

 “The current study indicates that adolescent consumption of energy drinks/shots is widespread and that energy drink users also report heightened risk for substance abuse,” the researchers write.

The masking effects of caffeine…

Caveating that their study does not demonstrate a causal link between substance abuse and energy drinks, Terry-McElrath and her colleagues nonetheless warn parents and the authorities.

“Education for parents and prevention efforts among adolescents should include education on the masking effects of caffeine in energy drinks on alcohol, and other substance related impairments,” they write.

“High sensation seeking youths” may be particularly likely to consume energy drinks and be substance users, Terry-McElrath et al. add, observing that energy drinks and shots should not be drunk by teenagers due to high caffeine and sugar content, as per American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

Title: ‘Energy drinks, soft drinks and substance use among US secondary school students’

Authors: Terry-McElrath, Y.M., O’Malley, P., Johnston, L.

Source: Journal of Addiction Medicine, January/February 2014, Volume 8, Issue 1. doi: 10.1097/01.ADM.0000435322.07020.53

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