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Teens using energy drinks three times more likely to use alcohol, other drugs

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A new study published in the Feb. 2014 Journal of Addiction Medicine found a strong correlation between the consumption of energy drinks and alcohol or other drug use among teens. The University of Michigan analysis of self-reported data from 8th-12th grade students concluded teens who consumed canned energy drinks or energy shots were three times more likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana, and consume alcohol and amphetamines.

A follow-up report noted the youngest students had the highest consumption rate of energy drinks and shots compared with the 10th- and 12th-grade students in the study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also has spoken out against consumption of energy drinks by minors, citing the negative effects of energy drinks on children and underage teens. "Rigorous review and analysis of the literature reveal that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents," the AAP stated.

Energy drinks often contain herbal ingredients, including botanical sources of caffeine, that contribute to the overall average of 80 to 140 mg of total caffeine content. The popular Red Bull energy drink, for example, has 80 mg of caffeine in a 10-ounce can.

While the Michigan researchers reported a higher risk of substance use in teens who drank energy drinks, they were cautious to state their findings don't mean the drinks cause substance use disorders – such as the disease of alcoholism – or that energy drinks were a gateway that directly lead to substance abuse. The study concluded, however, that there's a need for better education on the effects of energy drinks and the possibility that combining them with alcohol, trendy in teen drinking, may be a logical progression for thrill-seekers.

According to lead researcher Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, "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, and recognition that some groups (such as high sensation-seeking youth) may be particularly likely to consume energy drinks and to be substance users."

Lebanon recently issued a nationwide ban on energy drinks containing alcohol because of potentially severe health outcomes from the way energy drinks (stimulants) mask the warning signs of severe alcohol (depressant) poisoning. In 2012, a JAMA report warned of the health risks (see related examiner article), calling the combination not just risky, but "deadly."

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