Study: Energy drinks tied to depression, substance abuse in teens

Posted Mar 8, 2014 by Yukio Strachan
High school students who consume energy drinks may be prone to depression or substance abuse, a new Canadian study has found.
A variety of Energy Drinks
A variety of Energy Drinks
Simon le nippon
“While it remains unclear why these associations exist, the trend is a concern,” said Sunday Azagba, a researcher at the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo in southwestern Ontario in a statement.
“These drinks appeal to young people because of their temporary benefits like increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical energy,” he said.
Energy drinks, such as Monster Energy, Red Bull and Rockstar Energy, are also associated with a number of negative health effects, including cardiovascular symptoms, sleep impairment and nervousness and nausea, according to the study authors. While energy drinks include a combination of amino acids, vitamins and carbohydrates, the side effects are caused by the beverages’ high concentration of caffeine.
Energy drinks and teens
Dr. Azagba and researchers at the University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University in Halifax set out to know more about energy drink consumption among adolescents.
The results were published this month in the journal Preventive Medicine.
The study, based on data from the 2012 Student Drug Use Survey, examined energy drink use among 8,210 high school students in grades 7, 9, 10 and 12 in Atlantic Canada.
After analyzing data, Azagba and his co-authors found a high rate of consumption among high school students. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) reported consuming energy drinks at least once in the previous year. About one in five (20 percent) reported consuming the drinks at least once a month.
"We also found something very interesting," said principal investigator Azagba, according to CTV News. "The more intense users tend to be more likely to be depressed, they're more likely to have substance use," he said, referring to alcohol and marijuana.
The study also showed that sensation seeking -- taking part in novel activities that provide excitement -- was higher among energy drink users compared to non-users; and in higher frequency users relative to lower frequency users.
“Given the negative effects of excessive caffeine consumption as well as the coincident occurrence of the use of energy drinks and other negative behaviors in teens, the trends we are seeing are more than cause for concern,” said Azagba.
As a result, researchers are calling for limits on teen’s access to the drinks and reduction in the amount of the caffeine in each can.
Mixed reactions
But the Canadian Beverage Association (CBA), which represents energy and other drink companies in Canada, said that energy drinks are already regulated in Canada and have a capped caffeine content, CTV News reported.
"Contrary to the misperception perpetuated by this paper, most mainstream energy drinks contain only about half the amount of caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee," the CBA said.
On January 1, 2013, the federal government capped the amount of caffeine contained in any beverage in a single-serving can or bottle to 180 mg -- an amount found in a medium coffee, Health Canada said.
"Further, there is no evidence -- here or anywhere else -- to indicate that the consumption of energy drinks in any way led to substance abuse or to the sort of behavior associated with substance abuse," the CBA added.
Still, Doctors Nova Scotia told Global Halifax the study is more proof something needs to be done to protect teens.
“Over half of Grade 7 students are drinking energy drinks. I think that gives us pause for concern,” said Kevin Chapman, the organization’s director of health policy, who wants legislation to restrict the sale of energy drinks to people younger than 19.
Chapman also told Global Halifax that parents talk to their children about alternatives to energy drinks, such as going outside and exercising.
"This won't eliminate the problem entirely, but steps like these can help mitigate harm to our youth that appears to be associated with consumption of these drinks,” said Azagba.