Energy Drinks Linked to Risky Teen Behavior

Posted May 28, 2008 by

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Could Red Bull and Amp be behind some of your teen’s behavior? A new study from Kathleen Miller at the University of Buffalo links energy drinks to risky behavior, including substance abuse, unprotected sex, and violence. Miller was careful to point out that the drinks don’t cause the bad behavior, but that teens and ‘tweens who consume them are “more likely to take risks with their health and safety.” (The study, by the way, focused on teen athletes, energy drinks, and risky behavior. Her team coined the phrase “Toxic Jock” during the course of their research, which was reported in the Journal of American College Health.)

More than a 30 percent of kids aged 12-24 say they drink Red Bull, Amp, Rock Star and the like regularly. Even though each energy drink contains about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, since they’re served cold, kids tend to consume a lot at one time. But they can’t always take the excessive amounts of caffeine in their systems: children in Colorado and Florida have been sent to the emergency room from downing too much of the high octane drinks, and high school teachers around the country have been reporting that students seem drunk or buzzed due to their consumption.

What do you think? Is there a “Red Bull Effect,” or is this just another excuse for kids’ bad behavior?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Brittny B (Edit) Report

    I know high quality work when I see it. Your content is of high quality and it’s apparent you hold yourself to a higher standard than most. Keep writing like this and I’ll be back.

  2. Chris (Edit) Report

    I am 22, and was just recently diagnosed with ADHD. Apparently, according to my new doctor, just because I did well in school no one noticed what I was going through. She said that the fact that I managed the GPA that I did was amazing, but that the things I am going through now are a direct result of the condition. I have been rather reluctant to be put on medication, so she suggested that when I have to really get down to business to try an energy drink or even one of the ‘energy shots’. I have to say – the effect is absolutely amazing and surreal for me. I am rather health conscious, but I have never banned myself from things like soda and coffee. I do not drink them constantly, but have them on occasion. I could not believe that the caffeine and other stimulants could help as much as they do. On the other side, a friend of mine who I work with [who is a year younger and about my build] had one of my energy shots with me at work. Fifteen minutes later, he was very flushed and he said it felt like his heart was racing. This guy drinks more Mountain Dew then you could imagine. Everyone is worried about caffeine content – the other ingredients are just as troubling. However, I do not feel that these drinks should be outlawed or over regulated. I feel that it is as much on parents to make sure their children know what is going on around them. As I have grown up, I have watched parenting move from the hands of the parents to ‘who can we blame for our problem child’. This is not being a parent – this is failing at that task. If you cannot say that your child does not know the danger of something, then that means you have not imbued him/her with that knowledge. I have a 13 year old brother, and I have watched my parents ruin him until he was an mouthy, obese excuse for a child. I was never like that. Why? My parents had taken the time with me to make sure I understood what was happening. With my brother, however, it seems like they just did not put forth as much effort. I hope that you can realize that this is on YOU as >PARENTS< to be parents, not on everyone else around you to do your job for you. Also, let’s remember that kids will make mistakes, and almost all of them will try something that they probably shouldn’t at some point. Perhaps we should just be glad that it is an energy drink and not something much more harmful?

  3. AnneM (Edit) Report

    My son has a spectrum disorder and they thought he had ADD for a while..they put him on ADD medication and it did not do anything to help except make him shake. I personally do not like drugs and wanted to find a natural approach to helping him including diet…I eliminated wheat…BIG difference, and then put him on GOCHI….what a difference..he is now 20 and in college, makes eye contact, and is able to focus and concentrate better. Everyone sees a difference in him, his functioning and also his behavior. A few years ago he had an energy drink and had a similar experience to someone helped him make eye contact, focus and also communicate better…however they are not good for you….and our current plan has been the best for long term improvement

  4. rebeca morrow (Edit) Report

    Wow I am a 11 year old student and i did not even know that but i do know that enerygy drinks are just lick cigeretts and once you drink one you drink another.
    Thank you for the information,
    Rebeca morrow

  5. Elisabeth (Edit) Report

    Dear Tricialaxton: What a scary ordeal for both you and your son. I hope he’s OK now and has been given a clean bill of health from the doctor. Please stay in touch and let us know how your media campaign goes. I truly believe we are all the best advocates for our children, (and sometimes that means we have to “shout” a little louder than we normally would!)

  6. tricialaxton (Edit) Report

    My son drank a venom mojave rattler. he is 11 yrs old and weighs only 65 lbs. last night I had to call my friend who is a paramedic. my son made me promise 10 times that he would not have a heart attack. I am livid that an eleven yr old could walk into ralphs grocery store and purchase this drink. I swear to God I will have a law passed on the danger of selling this crap to kids. I sat up with my son last night convincing him that he would be okay when I myself was not sure. I hope that no parent has to go through what i did. if your child has experienced what mine did I think there is group in numbers. I have decided to go to the media. I think you should too!!!!!!!!!

  7. Khar59 (Edit) Report

    On reflection, what I said about families with money is abit of a distortion. I know kids from all socio-economic groups do these things too. However, even growing up in an upper middle income area, I know that there were lots of kids at the private boarding schools and the high school I went to that always had plenty of money to buy the alcohol and drugs they wanted as well as smart enough not to get caught! I don’t let my kids buy these drinks, let alone caffenated pop, or to drink coffee or tea. I have 3 adult children and grandchildren and I brought them up the same way as I am my stepchildren. Things have changed alot since the older one, and I’m also living in another country. I orignally come from New Zealand and they are very conservative about giving ADHD drugs, but there are still the same issues as here, but not to the same extent. Okay, love these forums I learn something more every day and it reminds me to talk with the kids and to watch for things like this.

  8. Khar59 (Edit) Report

    Unbelievable the things our children come up with these days. The worry is, why are they choosing things to alter their perceptions and their moods? It’s like a prelude to drug taking. I am glad I read this article and parents responses as it reminds me once again to talk with my kids about these things. It seems that in my kids peer groups, the kids that come from families with money know more and experience more than many of the other kids. Why is that? I knowing too much, or allowing them to have money and buy what they want the root cause of this?

  9. Kelly (Edit) Report

    Those drinks are just as bad or even worse than sodas: high fructose, suclarose, aspartame, and the list goes on. It is a cheap high for energy and in today’s society with obesity, lack of exercise, it’s better for the kids to drink water, tea or fruit juice and go to bed early to be energized!

  10. Mish (Edit) Report

    This is moronic, instead of complaining how bad these drinks are, and trying to regulate them, why don’t you be real parents and talk to them about how they aren’t suitable for young ones. These drink actually contain many vitamins and can be good for adults in moderation, even young adults too. Stop worrying about society (which is already screwed up) and start taking care of your children.

  11. Mom Lori (Edit) Report

    Children do things that sometimes make us say to ourselves, “What were they thinking?” I have come across a site tht helps us answer the question as to whether or not they were really using their brains!

    For every parent of a teenager who has ever wondered “who is this kid?” a new web destination, launched today by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, aims to make answering the question a little bit easier. Designed to help parents navigate the confusing, often frustrating teen years, “A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain” translates recent scientific findings that shed light on how brain development shapes teens’ behavior and personalities into easy-to-understand tips and tools for parents.

    The site, which is live at, was created in collaboration with the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia, top scientists and researchers on substance abuse and addiction and Boston-based WGBH, leaders in public broadcasting and educational multimedia.

    “A Parent’s Guide to the Teen Brain” explains how the human brain takes 25 years to fully develop, with the prefrontal cortex – responsible for complex judgment and decision-making – maturing last. Through video, humorous interactive segments, role-playing and advice from experts, parents learn how adolescent brain development explains the “normal” teen behaviors that often confound parents – impulsiveness, rebellion, high emotions and risk-taking – and how to use this new information to connect with their teens.

    Hope this helps….really helped me!

  12. Kathy (Edit) Report

    Another addition to the mix; teens add “Jaegermeister” or vodka to the rockstar for a rockstar party! Even more dangerous not to mention illegal consumption of alcohol beverages.

  13. jill (Edit) Report

    That remark about “would you rather….line of coke…etc” was ridiculous. It was exactly the type of comment that makes our children’s society even worse than it is. Just because something else is worse does not make caffiene ok. What kind of rationalizing are you doing? You are basically saying the same as: just because your kid does coke and not heroin makes coke ok?….thats what you are saying….brainless!

  14. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Teresa, you’re right about the amount of caffeinated beverages on the market now. I was surprised to find out that my nephew has a “latte bar” in his (public) high school cafeteria in N.J.! When did that start? And do they really think it’s a good idea to get kids all hyped up on caffeine before they go to class? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cup of coffee, but this seems a little extreme to me. Am I crazy?

  15. Linda (Edit) Report

    My son is ADHD and in the bipolar spectrum. He was first diagnosed with ADHD alone and placed on a stimulant medication. The stimulants caused him to become extremely irritable and even to rage. After two extended family members were diagnosed in the bipolar spectrum, it was suspected that he too probably has bipolar tendancies. He was taken off the stimulants and the raging ceased. He has raged only ONCE since then within a year and it was after a birthday party at which he consumed several caffeine loaded drinks. I am hopeful he has learned that his body does NOT tolerate caffeine.

  16. Wendy (Edit) Report

    Thank you so much for writing on this situation and Thank God that people are recognizing exactly how DANGEROUS these “energy drinks” can be! I have suffered from anxiety attacks for 32 years. Drinking ANY amount of caffine causes me to have a panic attack. My 14 year old daughter has just started getting minor attacks. I tried to explain to her that these ridiculous “drinks” are not good for anyone but also that it most likely will set off an attack. Of course, she didn’t listen and drank 2 on a 4 hour road trip. She began to shake uncontrolably and felt sick. I sure HOPE that she learned her lesson! Also, people don’t eat properly when drinking caffine because they lose their appetite. Tweens & teens NEED to eat properly. I would definately sign a petition where as to enforce a strict law forbidding a child under 16 to be able to buy these products. Also, I would recommend that no one, (under 16 or not), should be able to purchase more than 2 at one time. I used to work in a hardware store where we would refuse to sell turpentine to someone if it seems like they were going to use it to get “high”. Also, drug stores are starting to do the same thing with mouthwash (some people will do ANYTHING to get a buzz) and “energy drinks” could be another alternative. This is serious stuff people! Let’s get the word out.

  17. Teresa (Edit) Report

    Have any of you all noticed how many products are coming out nowadays with caffeine in them? I have seen caffeine infused skin cream and caffeine infused bubble gum. I have seen energy candy bars and energy vitamin shots (those little bottles that they sell at the checkout stand that say they have a lot of vitamin B — a lot of them also have added caffeine). Every one of them has caffeine as their source of “energy”. Coca Cola presents one of their drinks as a healthy alternative because it has added vitamins (CocaCola Plus). In fact, most of the energy drinks out there present themselves as “healthy” alternatives because they have added vitamins. I have tasted Red Bull. It tastes like vitamin flavored soda. A lot of the companies out there have decided that, since caffeine is a legal stimulant, that they should put it in pretty much everything, and the more, the better.

    The problem is that a lot of us buy into the caffeine craze too. How many people do you think go to Starbucks or their equivalent every morning on their way to work to get their Venti Mocha Latte, or the like? I think a lot of parents are saying that the energy drinks are dangerous to teens and children, but they don’t stop to see how much caffeine they themselves are consuming.

    Children learn by example. Don’t you think we need to set the example ourselves? In my home, we don’t just eschew smoking and drinking alcohol, or doing illegal drugs. We don’t drink coffee either. We don’t even own a coffee maker. We also don’t drink sodas, except as a rare treat when we go out to eat. We drink herbal teas (like chamomile and anise tea), sugar free powdered drinks, milk and water.

    I do know that some teas have a natural amount of caffeine in them — regular old Lipton does — but the makers don’t enhance the tea to “give you more energy”. Chocolate has a certain amount of naturally occuring caffeine as well. And decaf coffee is not completely decaffeinated. We don’t go out of our way to avoid Lipton and chocolate and decaf coffee. We do however, go out of our way to avoid the ones that advertise themselves as “energy” enhanced drinks. Some of the sugar free powder drinks advertise that they are there to help give you your morning “kick”.

    Please don’t misunderstand — I am not trying to put anyone down for drinking their morning cup of coffee. It’s just that, if you want your kids to really listen to you about the caffeine topic, as you expect them to listen about drinking alcohol, smoking and doing drugs, shouldn’t you lead by example?

  18. RN Mom with ADHD son (Edit) Report

    My son is medicated with Straterra, a non stimulant, but when he visits his father 2000 miles away for a month out of the summer he reportedly refuses to take his med. My former husband detests medicating for ADHD, but he only has visitation and not custody, nor does he have to deal with the day to day behaviors throughout the school year.

    My former husband informed me that our son was much more focused on energy drinks. He seemed thrilled as he told me that this was the new answer and that I should have his pediatrician take him off Straterra.

    It was at that opportunity that I gently reminded that I had custody and he had visitation. I informed him that caffeine is a stimulant also, and that the downfall from encouraging our 15 yr old son to self medicate with energy drinks would eventually backfire, as his tolerance to caffeine built up and that it would also encourage our son to strike out to find another method (legal or illegal) to become focused once he no longer got the kick from “Rockstar”.

    I have not heard a peep since. Finally, after 10+ years of having to endure “why are you drugging our son”, refusing to acknowledge that he had ADHD, and all the inuendos thrown at me, the EX listened.

    I will definately keep this article in my arsenal for the future conflicts regarding my son, ADHD and energy drinks.

  19. Marsha Stasney (Edit) Report

    My daughter, almost 15, is frequently asking me to buy her energy drinks when I go to the grocery store. Monster, Rockstar, etc. About a year ago when these drinks became popular at her high school with the kids, I would occassionally buy her one. Then she had a friend over for a sleepover, and the friend had smuggled in 6 energy drinks. Each of the girls drank 3 over the course of the sleepover, and were crazy acting. Loud, giggling, hysterically laughing, it was as if they were drunk or on drugs. At that point I told her how dangerous I thought the drinks were to their young bodies, and have refused to buy my daughter the energy drinks since that time. I also wish they came with a warning label. I almost wonder if they could cause young people to have seizures or heart attacks. They just can’t be good for teens.

  20. Bilha (Edit) Report

    It’s good to see this topic here.
    I think caffeine can definitely affect a child’s behavior.

    My children have also become interested in energy beverages (such as Red Bull, Full Throttle, Vitamin Energy, and Rockstar).
    After hearing them complain that I was the only mom on the planet that did not allow them to have their drinks, I decided that the best thing I could do was to provide them with all the information possible so that they can make better choices.

    I googled caffeine and here is just a tiny amount of facts that I found:

    Caffeine is considered a DRUG!!!
    It affects the central nervous system, and is lethal in massive doses. It can take effect about 15 minutes after consumption, the effect can last for hours, and some studies show that it can also become addicting. I found an interesting article that mentioned that some people can actually have caffeine sensitivities and even allergies.

    Some caffeine drink info :
    (See for more info)

    Brewed coffee has 107.5 mg. of caffeine per 8 ounces.
    Starbucks Caramel Frapuccino 110 mg (Grande -16 ounces)
    Mountain Dew – 55 mg for every 12 ounce can
    Coca Cola classic 34.5 mg in every 12 ounce can.
    Vitamin energy 150 mg in every 16 ounce can.
    Red Bull 80 mg in every 8.3 ounce can
    Rockstar – 160 mg in every 16 ounce can.

    Most of these drinks also contain other stimulants such as sugar, Guarana, etc.

    I personally would like the industry to clearly label energy drinks as containing a harmful substance!

  21. Sherry Beckmann (My 13 year old son is wants to add a teens perspective) (Edit) Report

    My 13 year old teen says:
    Engery drinks are often very powerful and it would be very foolish to drink more than one. Adults can’t make the assumptions that teens will drink more than three just because some of them do. Energy drinks are a recreation drink for teens. It only has bad publicity because of its consumption by teenagers and teenagers are often associated with trouble making.

  22. Cheryl (Edit) Report

    My friend is a teacher, and she told me recently that some of the kids in her class need to “straighten up and stop shooting energy drinks.” She said kids go to 7-11 and buy the super concentrated energy drinks and down them like a shot. In her opinion, having to deal with it all the time, it makes an obnoxious kid ten times more obnoxious. She thinks the drinks should be banned.

  23. Terry Brown (Edit) Report

    I am on the other side of this energy drink thing. My 17 year old son with severe ADHD asked me to buy him a “Monster” energy drink and I did…and it was wonderful.

    As we all know, drugs that are “uppers” for the general population work in reverse for ADHD kids. It was just like he was on his meds…calm and focused.

    But that was one…not four. I don’t know if these drinks have more or less caffeine than say Coke or Mt. Dew or if it is the combination of the other ingredients that make these drinks seem to have more affect.

    We can’t regulate everything and I certainly would not advocate unlimited consumption. I guess it is up to parents to do as we always do, advise our kids and hope they listen to us and not their peers.

  24. Kathy Lin Eggleston (Edit) Report

    My seventeen year old son- who was not driving the car because I knew something was the matter with him when he walked out of the school- grabbed the steering wheel of the car while I was driving. Had I been going very fast I would not have been able to avoid a wreck. Seems he and some other kids terrorized a substitute teacher as well. -And all of this because he drank a high energy drink instead of lunch. He was not even close to the same kid I know until after 8 p.m. that night. Eight hours-and the ones after I picked him up from school were rough ones for our family. Thank goodness other people he met though out the day, latter told him how out of control he was because he would have never believed us. He really thought he was Macho Man. It has been seven weeks and so far no repeat. Now he knows what to watch for he can see people around him going off the deep end and that has been a good lesson for him.

  25. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Thanks, Melinda and Lisa for weighing in. After hearing your firsthand accounts, it makes sense to me that underage kids should not be allowed to purchase energy drinks, and parents need to be aware of the risks associated with their consumption.

  26. Lisa Wilkerson (Edit) Report

    I agree 100% with MeLinda. My son also age 13 drank 2 of them back to back in an evening while he was with some friends and then he couldn’t get to sleep. He came in and told me he couldn’t get to sleep and that is when I found out that he had drank 2 of them. When he finally crashed at 3:00 am it was like he passed out. I couldn’t get him awake to go to school the next morning. It was just like a hangover and he had to sleep it off. I agree these drinks are way too dangerous for teenagers to be able to purchase. I think my son learned his lesson from this but I still think the energy drinks need to have an age limit to purchase them. I just hope someone doesn’t get seriously hurt before something is done about these drinks.

  27. MeLinda (Edit) Report

    I would completely agree with the way that this is written- I feel awareness is very important and some parents just don’t see the connection with these harmless looking drinks being sold to children who aren’t physically able to handle the ingredients contained within. It does not take long for children to notice the effects these drinks have on thier system and often abuse them for the “drunk feeling” or the brief high it gives them. My teenage son shared with me a very scary experience that I need to pass on—-him and a friend collected thier money and went to the store and purchased 4 drinks a piece they were at another home having a sleep over and they drank the drinks back to back – within an hour my son’s friend began trembling uncontrolably and luckily was able to vomit most of the drink from his system after an hour of feeling terribly sick and “close to death” the kids were all scared of getting in trouble because of what they had done and did not ask for help. My son ended up walking over 5 miles in the middle of the night to make it home and woke me to tell me what had happened- he seemed fine at the time but I’m sure that since he is a bigger boy and he just walked five miles it had a different affect on him. I do not agree with children being able to purchase these beverages- they can prove to be more deadly than a controlled substance such alcohol or even cigarettes because they act so quickly and they are easy for kids to buy themselves. It is very true that children who make such poor choices lean towards risky behavior- as I have experienced with my son who is 13 years old. I just wanted to share this with others who may not have had any experience with the damage these drinks can cause.

  28. Marcy (Edit) Report

    This makes sense to me. I also wouldn’t let my son drink 4 cups of coffee in one sitting. Moderation in all things, right?



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