Energy drinks have already taken a lot of heat for the negative health effects they have, according to research. Now, they’re taking another hit as scientists say such drinks can act as a “gateway drug” for young adults to begin consuming other addictive substances.
Researchers at the University of Maryland followed almost 1,100 college students over five years, tracking their consumption of energy drinks. They found that 21-year-olds who regularly drank beverages with high caffeine content had a higher risk of abusing alcohol or other non-prescribed stimulants by the time they turned 25, CBS Local reports.
In addition, over half of the student respondents continued to keep their high levels of energy drink consumption throughout the five years. This “persistent trajectory” aligned with the typical behavior of those at risk for abusing cocaine or alcohol later in life, the study said.
Consuming energy drinks on a regular basis leads to changes in the brain, making it crave more stimulants in the long run, the study stated. Typically, this means an escalation in substance abuse, when energy drinks may not provide enough of a “rush” or “high” anymore.
Dr. Amelia Arria, lead author on the study, stated that the study is further proof that energy drinks could start young adults on substance use and abuse. She said, “Because of the longitudinal design of this study, and the fact that we were able to take into account other factors that would be related to risk for substance use, this study provides evidence of a specific contribution of energy drink consumption to subsequent substance use.”
However, the researchers suggest that more studies need to be conducted on teenagers and children in order to see if the addictive pattern is similar. Arria suggests, “Future studies should focus on younger people, because we know that they too are regularly consuming energy drinks.”