The Disturbing Dangers of Energy Drinks and Energy Drink Addiction: What to Know About 5 Hour Energy

If you have an energy drink addiction, you may think it’s helping to decrease your fatigue and improve your performance and mood, but this is only because your caffeine withdrawal symptoms are being alleviated.

The Disturbing Dangers of Energy Drinks and Energy Drink Addiction

Are you one of the 34% to 51% of young adults regularly using energy drinks, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association? Although this topic rarely gets mentioned when medical researchers report on the dangers of energy drinks, consuming energy drinks daily or using energy shots like 5 Hour Energy® every day quickly leads to addiction. An energy drink addiction is really an addiction to caffeine. Studies show that taking in as little as 100 mg of caffeine a day, the amount in about 12 ounces of Red Bull® or ½ serving of a 5 Hour Energy® shot, easily causes addiction in which you develop “tolerance” to its caffeine’s stimulating effects. This means you can no longer get the same energy-boosting effects from your usual dose.

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If your energy drink is not energizing you like it once did, you have an energy drink addiction

One recent study concluded that because people who regularly consume caffeine develop tolerance to its effects on sleepiness, they can no longer benefit from caffeine’s ability to enhance mental alertness and performance.[3] Going just half a day without caffeine was associated with greater sleepiness, lower mental alertness, and poorer performance on tasks measuring memory and reaction time.

Classic signs of energy drink addiction

With an energy drink addiction, you first start to need the caffeine just to feel “normal” energy levels; then if you don’t get your usual dose within a short time, you suffer withdrawal symptoms, like sleepiness and headaches. In one study published in the medical journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, people who drank caffeine every day and then abstained for 16 hours had more fatigue/drowsiness, low alertness/difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and headaches compared to people who consume little caffeine.[4]

The dangers of energy drinks mixed with alcohol are related to reduced sensation of intoxication and impaired judgment

While dependence on caffeine and energy drink addiction is no laughing matter, the serious dangers of energy drinks as reported in JAMA go beyond the addictive nature of caffeine. In one commentary, authors detail the health effects of mixing highly caffeinated energy drinks with various types of alcohol.[2]  With as much as 56 percent of college students consuming these mixtures, the concern is that the caffeine offsets the sedating and intoxicating effects of alcohol. Therefore, the drinkers do not realize that they are intoxicated and are thus much more prone to drinking even more and to impaired judgment relative to risky behavior. The dangers of energy drinks combined with alcohol are mainly related to “increased risk for negative consequences of drinking.” Part of this comes from the misconception by social drinkers that the caffeine from energy drinks can counteract the impairment they would normally get from the alcohol. The research shows, however, that while caffeine allows moderately intoxicated individuals to respond more quickly than they would without the caffeine, their actual performance was even more impaired. In other words, they may respond more quickly, but their responses are still more incorrect, imprecise, and non-inhibited. Obviously, this is not a good combination.

Other commentaries in JAMA on the dangers of energy drinks highlight problems with caffeine poisoning and toxicity.[1] Increased heart rate and blood pressure, irregular heart rate, palpitations are potential dangers of energy drinks related to their high caffeine content. The most common cause of death due to caffeine toxicity is abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias). Drug interactions in which multiple drugs and compounds are being metabolized in the same pathway, underlying heart or liver disease, and the influence of other ingredients in the energy drinks may enhance the caffeine’s toxicity.

According to a free patient handout which JAMA encourages doctors to distribute, adults should consume no more than 500 mg of caffeine per day and adolescents should only consume 100 mg. Children shouldn’t use energy drinks at all. A 16-oz cup of brewed coffee contains 170 mg of caffeine whereas 5-Hour Energy® has 207 mg and Rockstar 2X® has 250 mg per 12 ounces, two of the highest caffeine levels among the contenders.

Natural energy drink alternatives are available for healing from fatigue

If you or someone you care about is has an energy drink addiction, it’s crucial to know about the dangers of energy drinks and the negative aspects of caffeine dependence. Only by breaking your energy drink addiction will you be able to once again enjoy the increased alertness and performance improvements that caffeine offers to those not addicted. If you continue to feel fatigued once you leave the dangers of energy drinks behind and break your addiction (it takes about a week), it’s important to explore other potential underlying causes of your fatigue and to seek safer, more natural fatigue remedies.

Have you known someone who has become hooked on energy drinks?

What have they done to overcome that addiction? What advice might you give to others who are still trying to withdraw? Share your experience with other readers so we can help each other.


[1] JAMA. 2013;309(3):243-244.

[2] JAMA. 2013;309(3):245-246.

[3] Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012 Oct 30.

[4] Drug Alcohol Depend. 2012 Aug 1;124(3):229-34.

Originally published in 2013, this blog has been updated.

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Comments
  • Can somebody find out who owns these Companies making these drinks? & if they are associated with some of the big Pharmaceutical Companies, that also have people addicted to their drugs for Depression etc. BIG MONEY TO BE MADE!

  • i was addicted for years.. symptoms included – softening of my gums.. leading to tooth loss- my bones.. i ached constantly – now 4 weeks without.. im restless.. cravings are subsiding , my gums seem healthier.. advise people to refuse drinking redbull.. long term damage.

  • I don’t think building a tolerance to caffeine makes you addicted to it. The statement, “If your energy drink is not energizing you like it once did, you have an energy drink addiction” seems like conjecture to me. If someone builds a tolerance to beer, causing them to need 48oz instead of 24oz to be considered intoxicated, does that make them addicted to alcohol? I am of course, assuming alcohol and caffeine tolerances work in the same way.

    Please feel free to correct me, but I think the statement I am responding to is a bit over the top.

  • Hi Grant. There is a fine, blurry line between tolerance and addiction. It’s not easy to define and it’s controversial. In my mind, when your body becomes dependent on a drug, including caffeine, to the point that you get withdrawal symptoms (fatigue, decreased concentration, and headaches) when you don’t have it, you’ve crossed the line into addiction.

    Dr. Kathleen

  • Hi,
    I use energy drinks twice in a month cause they help me to stay up all night and i really need this cause of my homework. is it possible i get addicted to these energy drinks?

  • Upset w.

    My husband has been in the hospital all week after having an orthopedic injury. The doctors thought he was experiencing alcohol withdrawals from his intense shaking, high BP, sleepiness, and fowl mood. No, not alcohol but Red Bull. He drinks between 6-8 ted bulls per day. I had to make docs do bloodwork to prove they were wrong about it being alcohol or another substance. They are shocked by what they are witnessing.

  • Energy drinks are a scam. Eating a pear or an apple in the morning will supply the human body with twice as much energy in a five hour period than compared to any energy drink on the market. These fruits have fiber which allows the sugar in the fruit to be slowly metabolized into the blood stream, which will give you energy throughout the day. A person doesn’t have to be nutritionist or a doctor to understand this simple concept. There are other fruits that will do the same, but I just used apples and pears as an example because they are available year round. And there are some fruits which are not good because they can give the body a sugar spike. Of course sodas and other foods that contain sugar, or carbohydrates that later turn into sugar, can create worse sugar spikes, and leave a person tired and without energy after the insulin takes all the sugar out of the blood stream. We are all responsible for our own health to do the necessary research on what all this means. If you have stumbled upon this message then maybe you could take a look at the food you eat. When was the last time you ate an apple or a pear? Drinking large doses of caffeine or taurine can never be a smart replacement for common sense eating habits.

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