April 21, 2014 —

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at how energy drink consumption among teenagers is linked to heightened risk for drug use.

When it comes to issue of adolescent drug use, typically substances such as tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are the first that come to mind. Yet, there is another drug that many parents may overlook and it’s one that teens can buy without identification at their local grocery store or coffee shop. Case in point: caffeine. Specifically, caffeine-containing energy drinks.

Caffeine, as many mothers can attest, is an essential part of mornings, diets and at times, sanity; however, what many adults don’t know, is that this drug effects the bodies and minds of teens differently. A recent study from the University of Michigan and the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found a correlation between adolescent consumption of energy drinks/shots and heightened risk for substance abuse.

Energy drinks are beverages that contain particularly high concentrations of caffeine. Producers of these drinks use marketing strategies claiming increased energy, concentration and mental alertness and primarily target teenagers and young adults.

In the study, researchers analyzed data on nearly 22,000 U.S. secondary school students and discovered that about 30 percent of teens reported using caffeine-containing energy drinks or shots. In addition, another 40 percent of adolescents consume regular soft drinks every day, while another 20 percent reported drinking diet soda drinks daily.

Investigators also found that boys were more likely to consume energy drinks than girls. Additionally, use was higher for teens living in a single parent household. Perhaps more alarming, adolescents who reported consuming energy drinks/shots were also more likely to report recent use of alcohol, cigarettes and illicit drugs. In fact, teens who consumed energy drinks/shots were two or three times more likely to report other types of substance use, as compared to those who didn’t consume energy drinks.

There are several theories that attempt to explain this relationship. Some draw connections to marketing tactics such as the glamorization of energy drinks for recreational and stimulant properties, while others attribute the correlation to social and psychological factors, such as sensation-seeking behavioral patterns.

According to an article posted on PsychCentral, “The new study is one of the first to look at consumption of energy drinks by U.S adolescents and how they may be related to other types of substance use.” That said, the researchers who conducted the study, emphasize that it provides no cause-and-effect data showing that energy drinks lead to substance abuse in teens.

Regardless, parents should talk to their teens about energy drinks and help them understand the impact that such heavily caffeinated beverages can have on their diet and overall health. Have that conversation and remind your teen that energy drinks/shots do not necessarily ensure productivity or efficiency.