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Energy drink addiction: symptoms, side effects, withdrawal, and treatments

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Energy drink addiction: symptoms, side effects, withdrawal, and treatments

Energy drink addiction is defined as a dependence on the stimulant properties of these beverages, frequently exhibiting compulsive intake and an incapacity to function without them. Problems with sleep, anxiety, and elevated heart rates are among the most common physical and mental health consequences of this addiction.

Symptoms of energy drink addiction are strong cravings, mental imagery of drinking energy drinks, inability to control intake, physical dependence, tolerance development, disruption of daily life, and health complications.

Side effects of addiction to energy drinks include increased heart rate, palpitations, stomach pain, insomnia, fatigue, hypertension, heightened anxiety, irritability, disrupted daily routines, and social withdrawal.

Symptoms of energy drink withdrawal include headaches, irritability, fatigue, constipation, difficulty concentrating, and depressed mood.

Treatment options for energy drink addiction include counseling, gradual reduction, medical management, and lifestyle changes.

What is energy drink addiction?

Energy drink addiction is a condition in which an individual becomes reliant on the stimulating effects of energy drinks, frequently consuming them in excess to maintain alertness and energy levels. 

This addiction typically entails a consistent consumption of energy beverages, which results in a dependence on caffeine and other stimulant components to complete daily tasks. Over time, individuals develop tolerance, requiring larger quantities to achieve the same effects, and experience withdrawal symptoms when not consuming these beverages. 

What are the symptoms of energy drink addiction?

A girl drinking energy drink.

The symptoms of energy drink addiction are indicators that suggest an individual is getting hooked on energy drinks. The most common symptoms of energy drink addiction are listed below.

  • Strong cravings: Individuals with an energy drink addiction often experience intense and frequent urges to consume these beverages. These cravings tend to be overwhelming and persistent, making it difficult for the person to focus on anything else.
  • Mental imagery of drinking energy drinks: A common symptom is repeatedly imagining or visualizing oneself drinking energy drinks. These mental images are vivid and intrusive, often occurring spontaneously throughout the day. This persistent visualization reinforces the craving and desire, making it harder to resist the urge to consume energy drinks.
  • Inability to control intake: People struggling with energy drink addiction frequently find it challenging to limit their consumption. Despite efforts to cut back or stop, they continue to consume large quantities, often beyond what they intended. A 2023 study by Girán et al., published in Heliyon found that consumption of energy drinks among 157 students ranging from grades 3 to 8, with ages ranging from 10 to 15 years old, begins in the third grade and increases in frequency and quantity as they age. 13.1% of students in grades 7-8 drink energy drinks every day, and 8.7% do so more than once a week.
  • Physical dependence: Regular consumption of energy drinks leads to physical dependence, where the body becomes reliant on caffeine and other stimulants. Withdrawal symptoms occur if the person tries to reduce or stop their intake. This dependence makes it difficult to quit and often drives continued consumption to avoid discomfort.
  • Tolerance development: Over time, individuals need to consume increasing amounts of energy drinks to achieve the same stimulating effects. Regularly consuming extremely high amounts of caffeine, such as 750-1200 mg per day, can lead to a total or partial tolerance to the subjective, blood pressure-raising, and neuroendocrine effects of caffeine, as per a 2009 study titled, “Caffeinated Energy Drinks — A Growing Problem” published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
  • Disruption of daily life: Energy drink addiction interferes with daily responsibilities and social interactions. Individuals prioritize obtaining and consuming energy drinks over important tasks, leading to neglect of work, school, or personal relationships.
  • Health complications: Excessive consumption of energy drinks leads to a range of health issues. Energy drink consumption leads to negative health consequences, including cardiovascular problems like elevated heart rate and blood pressure, immune response, headaches, tremors, insomnia, jitteriness, stress, and irritability, according to a review by Nadeem et al., published in the May-June 2021 issue of Sports Health.

What are the side effects of energy drink addiction?

The side effects of energy drink addiction are described in the table below.

Side Effects of Energy Drink Addiction
Side EffectDescription
Increased heart rateA rapid increase in heart rate, brought on by energy drink’s high caffeine content, places extra stress on the cardiovascular system.
PalpitationsExcessive consumption of energy drinks lead to heart palpitations, characterized by an irregular or unusually rapid heartbeat.
Stomach painDue to their high acidity and stimulant content, energy drinks irritate the lining of the stomach, resulting in pain, cramps, and digestive problems.
InsomniaPeople who use energy drinks often have trouble falling asleep or suffer from chronic insomnia because the stimulants and caffeine in them interfere with their natural sleep cycles.
HypertensionHypertension and its related cardiovascular risks develop in certain individuals due to the stimulants found in energy drinks, which raise blood pressure.
Heightened anxietyEnergy drinks’ stimulants make anxiety worse, which increases restlessness, nervousness, and panic episodes.
IrritabilityFrequent use of energy drinks causes irritation and mood fluctuations, particularly during caffeine withdrawal or crashes. 
Disrupted daily routinesAn individual’s career, school, and social life are all negatively impacted by an addiction to energy drinks because of the dependence on these drinks for functioning.
Social withdrawalDependence on energy drinks lead to social withdrawal as individuals prioritize their consumption habits over social interactions and relationships.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle and making wise decisions require an understanding of these risks. People are better equipped to choose a healthy lifestyle and make more educated decisions regarding their energy drink usage when they are aware of these possible side effects.

What are the symptoms of energy drink withdrawal?

The symptoms of energy drink withdrawal refer to the effects that occur when an individual who regularly consumes energy drinks significantly reduces their intake or stops altogether. The symptoms of energy drink withdrawal are listed below.

  • Headaches: Individuals often experience headaches, which range from mild to severe, during energy drink withdrawal. An energy drink typically has roughly 35 milligrams of caffeine in a 2-ounce serving, according to a 2019 study by Mostofsky et al., published in The American Journal of Medicine. The study further stated that consuming large amounts of caffeinated beverages, such as energy drinks, may cause migraine headaches.
  • Irritability: The absence of caffeine leads to mood swings and a shorter temper. Relationships are frequently strained and social interactions are difficult due to this irritability. A 2016 review by Gareth Richards and Andrew P. Smith in the Journal of Caffeine Research suggested that caffeine’s acute effects are likely dose-dependent; as it was found that a 500 mg dose increased irritability, whereas a 250 mg dose increased elation.
  • Fatigue: Without the stimulants from energy drinks, the body struggles to maintain normal energy levels. This exhaustion makes it difficult to complete routine tasks and significantly impacts productivity.
  • Constipation: Withdrawal from energy drinks result in constipation, as the digestive system adjusts to the absence of caffeine. Results from a 2022 cross-sectional analysis by Mohammed et al., published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism stated that constipation was the adverse effect most frequently encountered by individuals who consumed energy drinks on a daily basis. Caffeine exhibits diuretic properties that can result in dehydration, subsequently depriving the colon of adequate fluid for normal bowel function.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: The stimulants in energy drinks often enhance cognitive performance, so their absence results in a noticeable decline in attention and mental clarity. This affects work, study, and other activities requiring sustained mental effort.
  • Depressed mood: The sudden lack of stimulants leads to feelings of sadness, lack of interest in activities, and overall emotional downturn. Over a two-year period, a study by Kaur et al., published in the November 2020 issue of Depression and Anxiety investigated the longitudinal relationships between energy drink (ED) consumption and mental health symptoms, including depressive symptoms, in young adults aged 20. The depression ratings of males who switched from not using EDs (energy drinks) to using them increased significantly to 6.09.

What are the treatments for energy drink addiction?

A boy with towel on his neck drinking energy drink.

The treatments for energy drink addiction refer to the programs put in place to help people cut back or quit drinking energy drinks altogether. The treatments for energy drink addiction are listed below. 

  • Counseling: Counseling offers a controlled setting for examining underlying problems and triggers. Counselors work with clients to help them fight cravings and create healthier coping techniques through individual or group sessions. A 2012 study by Juliano et al., from the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors reported that out of a total of 258 persons seeking treatment for caffeine use, 47% expressed a preference for one-on-one counseling, while 12% expressed a preference for group counseling.
  • Gradual reduction: Gradually reducing the intake of energy drinks helps manage withdrawal symptoms and makes the transition easier. This approach involves slowly decreasing the amount of energy drinks consumed over time rather than stopping abruptly. A 2013 study by Meredith et al., published in the Journal of Caffeine Research presented three case reports of caffeine dependence, all of which comprised a gradual reduction in caffeine consumption as a treatment for the condition.
  • Medical management: Healthcare providers offer medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, and fatigue. One particular case in a study titled, “Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda” in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Caffeine Research was that of Mr. B, who suffered from severe headaches that were believed to be rebound headaches as a result of caffeine withdrawal. At a six-month follow-up, he was able to effectively eliminate caffeine and did not experience any headaches. When he did experience a headache, he managed to alleviate it with an over-the-counter painkiller that didn’t contain caffeine.
  • Lifestyle changes: Engaging in regular physical activity boosts mood and energy levels, which helps counteract the fatigue commonly experienced during withdrawal. Enhancing sleep hygiene is essential, as sufficient rest greatly diminishes the necessity for artificial energy enhancements.

Can you overcome energy drink addiction on your own?

Yes, you can overcome energy drink addiction on your own, although it is potentially challenging. Certain individuals successfully quit energy drinks through self-discipline and determination, gradually reducing their intake and making healthier lifestyle choices. 

Understanding the risks of energy drink addiction, developing a plan of action to progressively reduce use, and increasing energy levels with healthier alternatives like consistent exercise, enough sleep, and a balanced diet are all crucial first steps. 

For others, seeking additional support from friends, family, or online communities can provide the necessary encouragement and accountability. Self-recovery is possible, but it takes proactive measures to treat the psychological and physical components of addiction in addition to a strong commitment.

When is energy drink addiction counseling necessary?

Energy drink addiction counseling is necessary when an individual finds it difficult to reduce or stop their consumption despite experiencing negative consequences on their health, daily functioning, or relationships.

Counseling becomes crucial when self-help strategies and willpower alone are insufficient to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. In addition, if the addiction results in significant mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, seeking expert counsel offers assistance and efficient strategies for managing these conditions. 

What happens when you stop drinking energy drinks?

When you stop drinking energy drinks, your body goes through a period of adjustment as it adapts to the absence of caffeine and other stimulants. Initially, you experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, which are often uncomfortable but typically subside within a few days to a week.

As your body detoxifies, you are likely to notice changes in your digestive system, including potential constipation, as it adjusts to the lack of caffeine. Over time, your natural energy levels stabilize, and you find that your sleep quality improves, leading to better overall rest and daytime alertness.

What are the causes of energy drink addiction?

A man at Gym drinking energy drink.

Causes of energy drink addiction refer to the factors that contribute to an individual’s dependence on energy drinks. The causes of energy drink addiction are listed below.

  • Personal and family history: If a person has grown up in an environment where substance use is prevalent, they are more likely to be susceptible to similar behaviors. Additionally, genetic factors play a role, making certain individuals prone to addictive behaviors. In fact, scientists approximate that genes, encompassing the influence of environmental variables on an individual’s gene expression, known as epigenetics, contribute to approximately 40 to 60 percent of an individual’s susceptibility to addiction, as per a 2024 publication titled, “Drug Misuse and Addiction” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
  • Changes in brain chemistry: The problem with energy drinks, particularly those that are high in caffeine and sugar, is that they induce the release of increased quantities of dopamine, the feel-good hormone in the brain, according to a 2018 review by Anjum et al., published in Cureus. As a result of these changes, the brain becomes dependent on stimulants for regular brain function and mood management.
  • Stress and fatigue: Numerous individuals turn to energy drinks to manage high stress levels and chronic fatigue. The quick energy boost provided by these drinks becomes a coping mechanism for dealing with demanding schedules and insufficient sleep. Over-reliance on energy drinks for temporary relief leads to habitual use and eventual addiction.
  • Marketing and accessibility: Aggressive marketing strategies and the widespread availability of energy drinks make them highly accessible and appealing. In fact, findings of a 2018 study by David Hammond and Jessica L. Reid published in Public Health Nutrition revealed that out of the 2,040 participants aged 12-24, 83% stated that they have observed energy drink marketing through at least one medium. The predominant channels utilized were television (60%), posters/signs in stores (49%), and online (44%). Adolescents (aged 12-17) were considerably more prone to reporting exposure to advertisements for energy drinks compared to young adults (aged 18-24).
  • Peer pressure and social influence: Social environments where energy drink consumption is common tend to pressure individuals into frequent use. Friends or colleagues who regularly consume energy drinks influence others to do the same, normalizing the behavior.

What are the risk factors for energy drink addiction?

Risk factors for energy drink addiction refer to the traits or situations that make someone more likely to become dependent on energy drinks. The risk factors for energy drink addiction are listed below. 

  • Genetic predisposition: Individuals with a family history of substance abuse are likely to have a genetic predisposition to addiction, increasing their susceptibility to energy drink dependency. Genetic factors influence how the body metabolizes caffeine and other stimulants, affecting sensitivity and tolerance levels. This biological susceptibility plays a role in the emergence of addiction.
  • Sensation-seeking behavior: Energy drink consumers typically exhibit elevated levels of sensation-seeking, which refers to a desire for stimulation, novelty, and unpredictability, as well as a propensity for impulsive behavior, as per a 2010 study by Arria et al., published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
  • Peer influence: Peer influence plays a significant role in shaping attitudes and behaviors related to energy drink consumption. Individuals are likely to feel pressured to consume energy drinks to fit in with social groups or to keep up with peers who regularly use them. Among teenagers and young adults in particular, this influence increases consumption and raises the chance of developing an addiction.
  • High stress levels: Individuals experiencing high levels of stress, whether from academic, work, or personal pressures see a quick energy boost and temporary relief from fatigue in energy drinks. In fact, experiencing significant levels of stress may result in increased intake of caffeinated items such as energy drinks as a means of coping, according to a 2015 study by Gareth Richards and Andrew Smith in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
  • Fraternity/sorority involvement: Involvement in fraternity or sorority organizations is often associated with social norms that promote heavy drinking, including the consumption of energy drinks mixed with alcohol. A study by O’Brien et al., published in the March 2008 issue of the journal Academic Emergency Medicine found that among the participants, 697 students reported taking alcohol mixed with energy drinks (AmED) within the last 30 days. Fraternity or sorority members or pledges exhibited a considerably higher likelihood of consuming AmED compared to individuals who were not affiliated with these organizations.

What is the unique relationship between energy drink addiction and exercise addiction?

Energy drink addiction and exercise addiction share a unique relationship that is characterized by their shared appeal to persons who desire improved physical performance and increased energy levels. The motivation behind these addictions is frequently the desire to push oneself physically, enhance one’s athletic ability, or attain a particular body image.

Since energy drinks are high in caffeine and other stimulants, people who exercise vigorously often consume them to increase their energy, stamina, and alertness. This combination sets up a vicious cycle where the stimulant properties of energy drinks encourage excessive and extended exercise, which eventually leads to exercise addiction and/or energy drink addiction.

Why are energy drinks addictive?

A woman drinking energy drink in a park.

Energy drinks are addictive primarily due to their high caffeine content and the additional stimulants like guarana and taurine that combine to produce a potent mixture that activates the central nervous system. Furthermore, the immediate energy boost and the dopamine release that comes from the sugar found in lots of energy drinks reinforce positive feelings. 

Research indicates that the propensity for caffeine addiction may be due to a particular neuropharmacological mechanism involving dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens shell, as per a study by Meredith et al., published in the September 2013 issue of the Journal of Caffeine Research. It is important to note that certain substances of dependence, such as cocaine and amphetamines, also induce dopamine release in this brain region.

Are energy drinks more addictive than coffee?

Yes, energy drinks are more addictive than coffee. Although both beverages contain caffeine, energy drinks frequently contain higher levels of caffeine, with certain kinds containing over 500 milligrams, which is sufficient to cause caffeine toxicity, according to a 2017 study by Sanctis et al., published in Acta Biomedica.

In addition, vitamins, glucuronolactone, taurine, l-carnitine, carbs, and other herbal supplements like guarana and ginseng are found in energy drinks. Research on taurine has demonstrated that it has a negative interaction with caffeine as a result of its impact on renal-mediated transport and cell volume, a 2012 review by Ishak et al., in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience explained.

The stimulating effects of energy drinks are intensified by these additional constituents, resulting in a more immediate and immediate increase in energy and alertness than coffee. As a result, the body and brain grow accustomed to the strong effects and begin craving energy drinks, which increases the likelihood of caffeine addiction. The high sugar content in energy drinks plays a role in creating rapid spikes in blood sugar as well, leading to further cravings and a cycle of dependency.

What are the negative consequences of energy drink addiction?

Negative consequences of energy drink addiction refer to the adverse effects that arise from the excessive and prolonged consumption of energy drinks. The negative consequences of energy drink addiction are listed below.

  • Tooth decay: Due to their strong buffering capacity and acidic composition, energy drinks are a substantial danger for tooth erosion when consumed frequently, as per a study by Silva et al., published in the November 2021 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry. Due to increased susceptibility to decay and cavities, the teeth become more vulnerable to major dental problems, such as gum disease and tooth loss.
  • Weight gain: Energy drinks are often high in calories and sugar, contributing to weight gain when consumed in excess. The extra calories accumulate, leading to obesity, especially if not balanced with physical activity. Obesity itself then contributes to other health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.
  • Heart disease: Excessive intake of energy drinks increases the risk of heart disease due to their high caffeine and stimulant content. A 2021 case report by Uyanik et al., published in the Journal of Tehran University Heart Center described a case involving a 24-year-old male who was brought to the emergency room due to progressively worsening shortness of breath during the past week. Prior to being sent to the hospital, the patient had been consuming 8 to 10 cans of energy drinks daily, which amounts to around 3.5 to 4 liters per day, over a period of two weeks. The individual was diagnosed with acute heart failure and admitted to the hospital for medical intervention.
  • Type 2 diabetes: A can of energy drink, with a volume of 8 fluid ounces (about 240 milliliters), provides a range of 21 to 34 grams, or possibly 50 to 60 grams, of glucose, according to a 2018 study by Nowak et al., published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Excessive sugar consumption leads to negative health effects, particularly by causing insulin resistance. This condition is strongly linked to the development of metabolic disorders like obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • Mental health issues: Long-term reliance on energy drinks worsen existing mental health conditions and reduce overall well-being. In fact, a 2016 study titled, “A Review of Energy Drinks and Mental Health, with a Focus on Stress, Anxiety, and Depression” from the Journal of Caffeine Research found that although the acute mood effects of energy drinks were frequently positive, chronic use was frequently linked to undesirable mental health effects, such as increased anxiety, stress, and depression.
  • Financial problems: Regularly purchasing energy drinks leads to significant financial strain, especially for individuals consuming them daily or in large quantities. The cost of maintaining this habit adds up quickly, diverting funds from essential expenses.

Do energy drinks cause weight gain?

Yes, energy drinks cause weight gain. Numerous energy drinks are high in calories and sugar, which contribute to an increased caloric intake when consumed regularly. The excess sugar is converted into fat if not burned off through physical activity, leading to weight gain over time. 

Additionally, the high caffeine content leads to poor sleep, which is associated with weight gain due to hormonal imbalances that increase appetite. Individuals’ consumption of energy drinks in lieu of healthier beverages or food results in a deficiency of essential nutrients and contributes to overall poor dietary habits.

Do energy drinks cause cancer?

No, energy drinks do not cause cancer, as there is presently no direct evidence to support this claim. However, several components included in energy drinks, like excessive sugar content and artificial additives, have been connected to a higher risk of long-term health problems that are associated with cancer. 

Obesity, which is a recognized risk factor for a variety of cancers, is a consequence of excessive sugar consumption. Although there is no direct causal relationship between energy drinks and cancer in the current body of research, the potential indirect effects through related health issues necessitate caution and moderation in consumption.

Do energy drinks cause depression?

A depressed woman sitting by a wall.

Yes, energy drinks cause depression. Frequent intake disturbs the natural sleep cycle, negatively affecting mental wellness and elevating the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms.

A review by Ajibo et al., published in the February 2024 issue of Public Health revealed a substantial correlation between the consumption of energy drinks (EDs) on a frequent basis and the elevated risk of depressive symptoms in children and adolescents. 

Individuals who consumed EDs more frequently reported higher levels of depressive symptoms than those who consumed them less frequently or not at all. The results of the study are in agreement with previous evaluations and studies that have indicated a positive correlation between ED consumption and mental health issues, such as depression.