College students who consume highly caffeinated energy drinks are at an increased risk for abusing alcohol and cocaine, according to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Maryland, College Park, followed 1,060 21-year-old undergraduates for up to five years and had them self-report their use of energy drinks, other caffeinated drinks, alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs including cocaine and heroine.
They found that compared to nonusers of energy drinks, those participants who routinely consumed the caffeinated beverages or increased their intake, had higher rates of use of cocaine and “prescription stimulant misuse” and alcohol disorder.
The researchers also found their results held true regardless of how many energy drinks a participant consumed — whether infrequently, occasionally or frequently.
Their findings were published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in June. The study was funded in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
According to the most recent “Monitoring the Future National Survey,” marijuana use among college-age adults increased to 4.6 percent in 2015 from 3.7 percent in 1995.
College students are also found to be heavier drinkers than those of the same age not in a university, with 31.9 percent saying they binge drank (five or more drinks in a row) in the past two weeks compared to 23.7 percent not enrolled; and 38.4 percent of college students saying they were intoxicated in the last month, compared to 24.9 percent not in a university.
Cocaine use, which was on a decline from 5.4 percent in 2007 to 2.7 percent in 2013, rose in 2014 to 4.4 percent before slightly dropping in 2015 to 4.3 percent.
The scientists wrote in their discussion that they can’t directly link energy drinks to substance abuse disorder, but highlighted that a product marketed to still-developing teens and young adults is at least associated with other unhealthy behaviors.
“Energy drink users tend to have greater involvement in alcohol and other drug use and higher levels of sensation seeking, relative to nonusers of energy drinks,” the authors wrote in their conclusion. “Prospectively, energy drink use has a unique relationship with nonmedical use of prescription stimulants and analgesics. More research is needed regarding the health risks associated with energy drink use in young adults, including their possible role in the development of substance use problems.”