Energy Drinks May Pose a Dangerous Addiction Risk

Do you—or does someone you know—have an energy drink addiction? Learn what every consumer needs to know about the dangers of energy drinks.

Cans of energy drink that may pose an addiction risk

At its core, an energy drink addiction is really an addiction to caffeine.

It’s not a promising trend: Between 34 and 51 percent of young adults are 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 them 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 a half-serving of a 5 Hour Energy shot easily causes an addiction in which you develop “tolerance” to caffeine’s stimulating effects. This means you can no longer get the same energy-boosting effects from your usual dose.

How People Subject Themselves to the Dangers of Energy Drinks

Simply put, if your energy drink isn’t energizing you like it once did, you have an energy drink addition. One 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, and 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 that JAMA encourages doctors to distribute, adults should consume no more than 500 mg of caffeine per day and adolescents should consume only 100 mg or less. Children shouldn’t use energy drinks at all. A 16-ounce 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

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 energy drink 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.

For worthy alternatives to energy drinks, think outside the “drink” arena. Research shows that just taking brisk walk for 10 minutes is a natural pick-me-up. The fresh air and vitamin D you get from sunshine are known energy boosters. Likewise, napping can help. According to research, a 60- to 90-minute nap can restore energy.

Likewise, various foods can fit the bill: Think protein-rich selections like nuts, avocados, whole-grain items like quinoa, oatmeal, or whole-wheat bread, and, of course, fruits and vegetables.

For beverages, you’ll help yourself by replacing energy drinks with tea (iced or hot) or water.

Tell Us About Your Experience with Energy Drinks

Have you known someone who has an energy drink addiction? What has he or she done to overcome that addiction? What advice might you give to others who are still trying to withdraw? Share your experience with your fellow 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 is regularly updated.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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  • 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?

  • 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.

  • I think I used to be addicted i think that because I took at least everyday a monster or red bull and sometimes I would even take two one in the morning and one after school I was all the time tired and I wasn’t paying attention to anything I also had anger issues I think because of that I reacted too much too quickly.. Now I only take these drinks from time to time not too often but I can’t feel the effect anymore I can drink a can and still go to sleep a 10 so I think maybe that’s an effect from drinking this too much.. I would simply recommend that you drink this kind of drinks once in a while or when it’s really needed.

  • My wife drinks on an average day between 6-8 cans of this poison and Iv’e had enough of her shit! Today’s Thanksgiving and after company leave’s I’m right behind them. Craps bad news and its like living with an addict that won’t put them down and I see the negative side of these things so clearly and she’s so blind to it. Don’t start drinking them and you won’t have to worry about detoxing from them later. Sad even an Energy Drink has such bad side affects… FDA — Great job..

  • Fighting this with my husband. He’s drank energy drinks for the last 10 years. It’s an addiction. He constantly lies about ‘not drinking’ it. I can tell in 3 seconds if he drank anything with caffeine. He would drink instead of eating. Wrecked his truck and hit the neighbors maibox under the influence. Traditional docs just want to give him sleeping pills to help him sleep. It’s ruining our lives.

  • I have been drinking them since I was 8 and I’m not 13 – my parents never really liked them but I have noticed that my local corner shop are very persuasive at giving them to youths saying you are going to love it on a hot day and so on . My hands seem to shake more than usual now and I get headaches more frequently , I also notice I use them when I’m feeling stressed or down but it makes it worse and I use it as a crutch . Defiantly stopping drinking them and gradually getting away from them this is the 2nd time now and I’m improving dramatically (I drank at least 1 can of relentless a day and a small cheap 30p one too )

  • I’ve been drinking redbull.withdrawal for 25yrs with a few months break here and there. I had just one a day but lately it had been creeping up to 2 as I wasn’t getting the buzz or energy any more from 1. So I recently decided to go for hypnotherapy to stop as I couldn’t do it in my own. I was addicted and it had become a habit. Since stopping I’ve experienced headaches, confusion, sleepiness, no get up and go. It’s only been a few days fingers crossed I’ve won’t go back on it !

  • I just ended up in the hospital with palpitations on my sons 5th birthday. I feel so stupid for having done this to myself. I drank 1-2 (usually 1) fruit punch Rockstars for the past several years (I’m not sure if it’s been over 10 or not but probably right about there). I’m 30 and now worried I did damage to my heart. They did an EKG and the doc said I had no permanent damage to my heart but I’m still having intermittent chest pain (it hasn’t been quite a week yet). The doctor told me to follow up with a cardiologist but I’m poor with no insurance. I hope I’m ok and i don’t think these things should be sold in stores.

  • I am addicted to energy drinks cant function without them i drink 5 a day spend way more than 20 a week what can i do to get help cause the headaches without them are unbearable

  • Are there any differences in the caffeine addictions associated with energy as opposed to with classic coffee? There are plenty of adults in the world who would attest that coffee is a need just as strong as food or shelter. Is their in scientific comparison of symptoms and impairments caused by coffee intake? This article seems to be rather focused and pointedly biased if the caffeine addiction is the only attributed health risk energy drinks expose us to. Perhaps a more in depth look at our business hour schedule would be beneficial in curbing the self medication of caffeine addicts?

  • I’m not sure if I can be classified as an addict but I feel that it is affecting my life negatively. At one point I had two a day and 2-3 cups of regular coffee too. The first time I quit cold turkey I had headaches and dizzy spells for almost two weeks before I felt normal again. I no longer drink any coffee, sodas or even teas containing caffiene. Enengy drinks are down to no more than 3 a week. That said, I always always feel the need to have one. I often find myself in the shop for no reason and I end up standing in front of the fridge with energy drinks, trying to convince myself that I don’t need one. The bloody stuff is on my mind all the time. I can force myself to go without for up to a week.

  • To Sherry – I know what you mean. For a year I was drinking Monster or a Red Bull, a bottle of cold brew coffee, and hot black coffee twice a day. I truly was tired a lot, but other times I was drinking most of these because of the caffeine, out of desire/habit, and then the flavor too. A mild addiction, but an addiction none the less. I hated when I didn’t even need any caffiene and I would drink something and feel my heart beating harder. I would have to assume that anyone that ingests 300mg of caffiene or more a day, every day, is going to have an aged heart muscle, palpitations, or kidney damage. I kept thinking about this at age 42. I tapered down to one coffee and a V8 green tea based drink every day. But the V8 made an urge to urinate like crazy! As for energy drinks like Monster, Rockstar, Amp, or Red Bull – they have a pH the same as stomach acid (3.00-3.55 for the drinks which is near the upper pH for stomach acid). Some have a decent high amount of sodium too. After drinking any of these I had heart burn and acid reflux. So I tapered off to green tea, maybe one coffee, and one or two Monster or Red Bulls a week. Then it was Diet Mountain Dew – heart burn, then intestinal pain next day. Then Mountain Dew ICE – good, but a lot of citric acid and it made bumps or something on my toungue, plus it had 25mg of sugar per 12oz. Super cheap though, $1.25 for 2L at a large popular store. Now I am doing one bowl of green tea only, or a coffee in the AM and green tea in early evening. I am currently only trying to drink one a day and water. ALL soda, 90% of ice tea drinks, mass produced processed fruit juices, sports drinks, and energy drinks have hign acidity and/or sodium. All thanks to added phosphoric acid and citric acid all drinks (except root beer) have those nasty 2.20-3.70pH values. Rotten for teeth, esophogus, and stomach. THIS is what made me hate things that come in cans or bottles the most. Plus, when I was younger I stopped drinking soda when I was 11, to never start drinking it again until I was 21(Jack and Coke, then energy drinks, then Coke and Sprite Zero, back to energy drinks and coffee, to now). Adrian W. – Truer words cannot be said. My green tea or water every day is enough for me. I am lucky because I know the lure or caffiene, habits, certain flavors, and sugary flavors. Though I must say – cranberry juice is full of acid and sits in my stomach waiting to come out too. Nasty drinks are not just sodas and the like. Anything in bottles and cans is garbage. Don’t forget about that one specific “approved” artificial sweeter. It 100% contributes to cancer development. It is too late to ban it now – there would not be enough billions or trillions of dollars to cover the lawsuits and backlash, so everyone lets it be, but with a warning.
    Here is a great article on pH of popular drinks and beverages (waters and beer is there too!):

  • My bf was drinking energy drinks nearly everyday for weeks.. One of the days he had 3.. He said he was really tired and needed another.. I wasn’t concerned at the time and didn’t think it could be that serious but it really is. Now he is having chest pain and says it feels tight by his heart!? I feel so bad and worried… He doesn’t have insurance and just called me from work and said he just threw up and is feeling bad and dizzy… But he doesn’t want to leave and take a 1/2 point bc he thinks he might be able to tough it out.. I think he should just go to the ER and get checked out so we can know exactly what’s going on. Energy drinks seem harmless to those who don’t know much about them but they are marketed and mass produced for a reason.. Terrible side effects and can kill and people drink them unknowingly! It is so messed up… I’m a health nut and have been drinking water w/acv+lemon+cayenne pepper every morning for 4 years and rarely ever get sick. I was sick maybe twice and it only lasted for 2 days and my bf would catch something from his family and be sick for weeks and I’d be fine! I really think I can attribute it to the lemon water! I wish he would’ve just listened to me and stayed away from the energy drinks..! I’m hoping he just comes home to relax and praying that this passes and he is fine..

  • I have been drinking energy drinks 5-6 cans of jumbo red bull everyday for many years. I had decided to call it quits yesterday I felt the headache and pain went down to my jaw I had felt my heart beat extremely fast when I was not doing anything that would increase my heart. Today I feel ‘brain fog’ . I hope this weird feeling will subside soon , I don’t no what will come next. . I would love to feel like myself again .

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