Experts: energy drinks can be addictive

Around 10 a.m. today, junior Brittany Duck will head to the Lobby Shop in the Bryan Center to buy her morning Red Bull.

"It's my breakfast," she said.

A self-described "Red Bull person," Duck said she consumes at least one Red Bull every day.

"My workload is out of this world and teachers assign so much homework.... The only way to get it done is to stay awake, and the only way to stay awake is through energy drinks," Duck said. "Your body wants to go to sleep, so the only way to stay awake is to mess with your body."

Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster have recently come under criticism as encouraging behavior akin to substance abuse. Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine helped author a paper in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence about the abuse of energy drinks. He and 97 others have called for better labeling on drinks by the Food and Drug Administration, according to an Oct. 13 article in The Los Angeles Times.

Students typically consume energy drinks to stay awake longer, increase energy levels, counteract insufficient sleep and mix with alcohol.

"There are technically only two ways to feel energized: by consuming macronutrients... that have calories, or relying on substances [with] stimulating effects such as caffeine," Franca Alphin, director of health promotion at Duke Student Health, wrote in an e-mail. "However, caffeine is not a substitute for sleep, which is what most people are trying to do, and is the underlying cause of fatigue."

Freshman Robert McCall said he thinks energy drinks can be reassuring if he has a long night of studying ahead of him, whereas some students, including freshman Dan Forti, mainly use energy drinks to stay alert throughout the day.

"Essentially, I don't get enough sleep, so the energy drinks help me get through my classes awake," Forti said.

Forti said he consumes energy drinks such as Red Bull and 5-Hour Energy about three to four times a week, but he noted that he sometimes experiences a negative side effect.

"If I drink [them] on an empty stomach, they do make me sick," he said.

The effects of energy drinks can go beyond simply keeping students awake and upsetting stomachs. Abuse of energy drinks-especially while drinking alcohol-can lead to dehydration, alcohol poisoning, accidents and addiction to sugar and caffeine. Excessive caffeine usage has also been linked to insomnia, nervousness, headaches, stomach pain, fast or irregular heartbeats and nausea.

"Energy drinks can be psychologically and emotionally addicting in that people believe they can't do as well in general without them," Alphin said. "People also tend to feel more tired and have a harder time concentrating if they are used to a lot of caffeine and then go off. So there are actual benefits to consuming caffeine-alertness, thinking more clearly and feeling more on top of things help in feeling less fatigued-which is why most of America lives on caffeine."

Tracy Falba, a visiting assistant professor of economics who has studied addiction, believes that caffeine addiction is not necessarily as dangerous as other types.

"It's just not as consequential to your health as other addictions," she said.

Falba added that caffeine and energy drink addictions are similar to alcohol or smoking addictions because people experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop consuming caffeine.

"You could be addicted to something like high-end shoes," she said. "But having to give them up isn't going to cause withdrawal effects for you the same way [caffeine would]."

Still, it does not seem that Duck will be giving up her addiction any time soon.

"I don't know how I would stay awake in some of my classes without my Red Bull," she said.


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