Researchers at the University of Waterloo recently located strong associations between teenage energy drink consumption and use of drugs and alcohol, as well as problems of depression. The study's conclusions were based on data from 2012 Student Drug Use Survey, which polled more than 8,000 junior and senior high-school students in Canada.
"While it remains unclear why these associations exist, the trend is a concern because of the high rate of consumption among teenagers," said Sunday Azagba, the study's lead author. "These drinks appeal to young people because of their temporary benefits like increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical energy."
The study was published in the latest edition of the journal Preventive Medicine.
Azagba and other public health researchers say the associations are alarming given the growing prevalence of energy drink usage among teens. Two-thirds of the high schoolers surveyed reported drinking the canned beverages -- some of the most popular being Monster, Red Bull, and 5-Hour-Energy.
It's this heavy use among young people that has helped propel a once small-but-burgeoning industry into the major leagues. Industry sales recently eclipsed $20 billion in the U.S.
"Marketing campaigns appear designed to entice youth and young adults," said Azagba. "It's a dangerous combination, especially for those at an increased risk for substance abuse."
Of course, no direct causation between energy drink use and substance abuse or depression has been shown. But these beverages have been linked to more direct health problems, such as cardiovascular symptoms, sleep impairment and nervousness, as well as nausea.
In the last few years, Monster, Red Bull, and 5-Hour-Energy have all been served with wrongful death suits, and the FDA has instigated investigations into links between energy drinks and potentially fatal health risks.
[University of Waterloo]