ER Visits Related to Energy Drinks Soar

Highly caffeinated drinks like Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster are sending people to the emergency room. These energy drinks can be abused.

We’ve covered the (now illegal) Four Loko alcohol energy drink phenomenon. Obviously, combining high doses of caffeine with alcohol is a recipe for disaster. Here is some new proof:

According to a new government study, more than 13,000 U.S. emergency room visits in 2009 were due to issues related to highly caffeinated drinks like Red Bull, Rockstar and Monster.  This represents 10 times the number of similar cases that were treated in 2005.  The study, which was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), also found that in nearly half the ER cases, energy drinks were mixed with alcohol or other drugs.

The popularity of energy drinks has skyrocketed in the past decade, with sales of energy drinks increasing by 240% between 2004 and 2009.  The health issues that are associated with these flavored drinks is due to the high levels of caffeine the drinks contains, with some containing up to 500 mg of caffeine in an 12-ounce.  This compares to about 100 mg of caffeine in the average 5-ounce cup of coffee.  High doses of caffeine can cause high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and dehydration.  Many people experience high levels of anxiety due to the elevated heart rate that comes with high levels of caffeine consumption.

Energy drinks are marketed to the young.  The SAMHSA found that as many as 50% of children, teens and young adults consume them on a regular basis.  Between 2005 and 2009, 52% of ER visits that were related to energy drinks involved people aged 18 to 25.  The study also found that men are more than twice as likely to mix energy drinks with alcohol and illicit drugs while women are more likely to combine the drinks with prescription medication.

Energy drinks that were sold premixed with alcohol received widespread focus over the past year following a rash of hospitalizations for extreme intoxication. Consumers of a drink called Four Loko, which combined up to 12% alcohol by volume with caffeine, reported a reduction of sensations typically associated with alcohol.  A rash of cases where young people drank Four Loko to the point of extreme intoxication led to a ban in several states.  In late 2010, the makers of Four Loco reintroduced the product minus caffeine.

The SAMHSA study points out that there are still serious risks associated with energy drinks even when they’re not sold in alcoholic form and that consumers of energy drinks are mixing the drink with other substances on their own.  The authors of the study warn that combining energy drink consumption with substance abuse can lead to life-threatening conditions.  There is also a greater likelihood of injury due to risky behavior such as driving under the influence.