Monsters and Bangs

“Caution: This product contains caffeine and should not be used with any other caffeine products.” You shrug the warning off, despite the red flags it plants in the depths of your mind. This morning has been rocky, and, to be honest, the average cup of joe won’t be able to handle the loads of fatigue you’re dealing with. After all, you’ve got yourself six cups of coffee in a single pint. Sounds perfectly harmless, doesn’t it?

Fifty-one percent of college students consume energy drinks under the impression that they will be boosting their stamina and attentiveness. From 50 to a whopping 505 mg of caffeine in one serving, these beverages far surpass the Food and Drug Administration’s limit of 71 mg. In fact, most brands bypass this stipulation by registering as a supplement, which leaves them with absolutely no restriction on caffeine levels.

graphic by Victoria Van

Such high doses of caffeine can lead to many unhealthy disorders. Insomnia is the first logical conclusion, but others that are less well-known include intoxication, caffeine-withdrawal, headaches, anxiety and tachycardia (increased heart rate). Exposure can also lead to future susceptibility to drugs and drug-dependence. In the end, these so-called “energy” drinks can induce 3.6 times greater odds of sleeping problems and 4.6 times greater odds of headaches.

Approximately one-third of all adolescents (12 to 18-year-olds) consume energy drinks regularly. For adults, caffeine toxicity is believed to occur at just over 300 mg of caffeine in a span of 24 hours. For adolescents, this number is decreased to 100 mg. According to scientists Chad Reissig, Eric Strain and Roland Griffiths, “it is believed that the potential for caffeine toxicity from [energy drinks] is greater than other caffeine sources such as coffee or tea due to inadequate labeling and greater volume of consumption driven by heavy advertising promoting ‘more is better,’ especially among children and youth.”

The slogans are well-known: “Unleash the beast,” “Party like a rockstar,” “Red Bull gives you wings.” Advertising has been a pivotal contributor to the rapid growth of the energy drink market. Competition is fierce, but these brands have a trick up their sleeve: aim for the young ones. According to research conducted on the effects of advertisement on teenagers, “adolescents lack maturity in key areas of the brain, are biologically predisposed to have poor impulse control, and are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior.”

Consumers are becoming increasingly less aware of what they are buying. Products with potential risks to one’s health are no longer rare revelations that appear once a month in the local newspaper. Energy drinks are yet another example of the exploitation of financial and nutritional loopholes. The best we can do is pay attention to the labels and stay within our mortal limits.