Yes, it is possible to overdose on energy drinks. However, overdose fatalities from energy drinks are rare. When someone does die from drinking too many energy drinks, it usually is due to severe heart arrhythmia attributed to the stimulant effects of caffeine.
The most famous energy drink—Red Bull—made a big splash in the beverage market in the late 1980s. Since then, consumption of energy drinks has skyrocketed globally, with some reports finding nearly 20 percent of children under 12 years old consuming energy drinks. As far as instances of energy drink overdoses, teenagers are more likely than any other age group to seek emergency medical treatment for symptoms of an energy drink overdose.
5 Ingredients in Energy Drinks Everyone Should Know About
The amount of caffeine in energy drinks ranges between 300 and 400 milligrams. By contrast, one cup of brewed coffee contains between 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. So, drinking one energy drink in less than 30 minutes is just like drinking four to five cups of coffee in 30 minutes.
Signs of caffeine overdose include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Throbbing headache
- Tachycardia (extremely rapid heartbeat)
- Ringing/buzzing in the ears
- Rapid respiration (hyperventilation)
Beyond signs of consuming too much caffeine are signs of caffeine poisoning. Emergency treatment is essential at this point to counteract caffeine poisoning using methods similar to counteracting a drug overdose. Caffeine toxicity will cause cardiac arrhythmias, spiking blood sugar, dangerously low potassium (hypokalaemia) and shock.
Most people don’t know that energy drinks contain large amounts of sugar. For example, although one 20-oz bottle of Coca-Cola Classic has 65 grams of sugar, it only contains about 35 milligrams of caffeine. Alternately, a 16-oz can of Rockstar energy drink contains nearly 60 grams of sugar—in addition to the 300 milligrams of caffeine and other stimulating ingredients.
An amino acid naturally produced by the body, taurine is abundant in the central nervous system where it is essential for neuronal health and survival. Although taurine has been touted by the energy drink industry as a caffeine-like stimulant, there has been no definitive research results supporting this claim. But, there is some evidence that, when combined with small amounts of caffeine, sugar or other stimulating chemicals, taurine appears to enhance neuromodulatory activity that may help delay deterioration of neurons associated with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
Found in Rockstar and Monster Energy drinks, guarana is a tropical plant native to the Amazonian basin. Guarana plants produce seeds with a high caffeine content. One gram of guarana seeds (approximately 15 to 20 small seeds) contain around five percent caffeine while one coffee bean contains about two percent caffeine.
Like taurine, glucuronolactone is a chemical naturally produced by the body to support connective tissue health. Although some energy drink makers claim that glucuronolactone has caffeine-like properties, there are no peer-reviewed studies providing evidence of this claim.
The stimulating effects of an energy drink can last as long as four to six hours or wear off within as little as two hours. A person’s reaction to energy drinks depends on their metabolism, body chemistry, weight and other factors. If a person is already an average coffee drinker (two to three cups per day), they probably won’t feel as energized after drinking one energy drink as a non-coffee drinker would feel. Likewise, people who drink several bottles of regular Pepsi each day won’t experience the kind of high-powered “buzz” a non-cola/coffee drinker would experience.
Is Energy Drink Addiction a Real Thing?
Next to nicotine, caffeine is the second most legal addictive substance in the world. Both nicotine and caffeine have psychoactive properties that affect the brain’s reward center, the same area targeted by heroin, methamphetamine and prescription opioids. Excessive amounts of caffeine, sugar and guarana will cause the brain’s reward center to flood the brain with dopamine, serotonin and other “feel-good” chemicals.
Tolerance for energy drink “buzzes” builds quickly. Eventually, a potential energy drink addict will need to consume increasing amounts of an energy drink to keep achieving that original buzz.
So, yes, there is such a thing as an addiction to energy drinks. Withdrawal symptoms after quitting energy drinks is also likely.
Signs of an energy drink addiction withdrawal include:
- Chronic head pain (“caffeine headache”)
- Feeling tired and unmotivated all the time
- Inability to focus, concentrate or think clearly
- Irritability, moodiness
- Joint aches
How long it takes to overcome an addiction to energy drinks can depend on how many energy drinks a person has been consuming every day. In some cases, the addiction may be more psychological than physical. Individuals engaging in competitive sports may feel like they cannot perform as well if they don’t drink several energy drinks before a game or event.
For example, a powerful psychological addiction can happen quickly if a college football player is urged by a teammate to drink an energy drink before his first game. The player scores several crucial tackles, intercepts a pass and feels great after the game. So, he begins consuming energy drinks before practices and games. Eventually, he realizes he cannot function physically or mentally without energy drinks.
What are Energy Shots? Are They More Addicting Than Energy Drinks?
An energy shot is about the size of a standard, two-ounce shot glass. Energy shots contain about 200 milligrams of caffeine. Alternately, a 16-oz energy drink contains about one-tenth of the caffeine an energy shot contains.
Like energy drinks, energy shots also contain taurine, sugar, guarana and B-group vitamins. Although there is not enough caffeine in one energy shot to overdose, consuming more than two energy shots in less time than it takes to consume an energy drink significantly increases the risk for caffeine toxicity and overdose.
Dangers of Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks
Mixing alcohol with any kind of stimulant (caffeine, cocaine, Adderall) counteracts the sedative effects of alcohol. In other words, you won’t feel as drunk after drinking a bottle of wine if you consume an energy drink with the wine. Consequently, you may think you can keep drinking alcohol since you don’t feel intoxicated. One bottle can lead to two bottles, then a shot of whiskey, and so on.
The danger for suffering alcohol poisoning is real when you mix alcohol with energy drinks or energy shots. Contrary to belief, caffeine does not accelerate the process of the liver metabolizing alcohol. Nor will an energy drink help a person “sober up” after getting drunk. Their blood alcohol level will be the same (if not higher) after consuming alcohol with energy drinks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides some startling statistics about mixing alcohol with energy drinks:
- Nearly 11 percent of high school students in the U.S. report mixing alcohol with energy drinks at least once in the previous year
- Close to 32 percent of adults between 19 and 28 say they have mixed energy drinks with alcohol at least once in the previous year
- High school students who self-identified as a “binge drinker” were twice as likely to combine alcohol with energy drinks than non-binge drinkers. The most common type of alcohol mixed with energy drinks (according to high school students) is hard liquor
- Teenagers and adults who regularly consume alcohol with energy drinks were more likely to engage in unprotected sex and drive while intoxicated than nonusers of alcohol and energy drinks.
Regardless of what causes an addiction, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to ease withdrawal symptoms by giving into cravings. Energy drinks are no exception. Call FHE today to learn more about getting help for any kind of substance addiction.