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Energy drinks, alcohol, and traumatic brain injuries in adolescents

Energy drinks, alcohol, and traumatic brain injuries in adolescents



By Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller

October 13, 2015

General risks of energy drinks


Energy drinks contain an unregulated amount of caffeine and other substances with both known and unknown pharmaceutical effects. According to a study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics , energy drinks are consumed by 30 to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults. Serious adverse effects are known to result from the toxic pharmaceutical actions of unregulated doses of caffeine and other ingredients contained in these drinks. The highest risks are among those with seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, or mood and behavioral disorders or those who take certain medications.


Concerns about traumatic brain injuries


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports-related traumatic brain injuries rose 57 percent in the United States between 2001 and 2009, with most injuries occurring in males ages 10 to 19. This is of special concern because adolescents are at increased risk of traumatic brain injuries with increased severity and prolonged recovery. Traumatic brain injuries can result in serious acute and chronic cognitive, emotional and psychosocial consequences.


Risk of traumatic brain injuries with consumption of energy drinks and/or alcohol


The consumption of energy drinks among adolescents in the United States and Canada has been steadily increasing, mostly among males and often in connection with sports participation. A group of researchers in Ontario has produced a study, recently published in the journal PLOS-One , which looks for the first time at the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injuries among adolescents who consume energy drinks, alcohol, and/or energy drinks mixed with alcohol. The researchers looked at data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), a population-based cross-sectional anonymous self-report school survey which included 10,272 7th to 12th graders (ages 11–20).


The findings


22.4 percent of the students reported that they had suffered a traumatic brain injury, defined as a blow or hit to the hit that resulted in loss of consciousness for at least 5 minutes and/or hospitalization for at least one night. Recent traumatic brain injuries were the result of sports participation in 45.5 percent of these incidents, and were more common in males than females. The odds of sustaining a recent traumatic brain injury were significantly greater for those consuming alcohol, energy drinks, and energy drinks mixed in with alcohol, than abstainers. These odds increased in proportion to the frequency with which these drinks were consumed. Adolescents who sustained a recent sports-related traumatic brain injury had higher odds of recent energy drinks consumption than abstainers.




The conclusions that may be drawn from this study do not presume a causative link. Consumption of alcohol, energy drinks, and energy drinks mixed in with alcohol is also linked with risk taking behaviors, poor academic performance, and increased physical injuries. Consumption of these substances may predispose adolescents to traumatic brain injuries, or adolescents may consume these in order to cope with the effects of such injuries, or both. In addition to the need for better education of parents and adolescents regarding the risks of consuming these substances, implications include the caution that energy drinks should not be marketed to adolescents participating in sports.