Study Examines Energy Drink Consumption and Caffeine Addiction Among College Students

Posted under Science & Research on October 7, 2009
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Energy drinks have gained substantial attention in the marketplace. Among college students, they have turned to this alternative to coffee in order to stay awake. This can be a dangerous habit if sleep continues to be ignored in favor of a quick fix from such products as Red Bull.

As more and more college students consume these drinks with as much or more caffeine than a cup of coffee, these students are putting themselves at risk of suffering the side effects of excessive caffeine consumption. These effects include dehydration, increased blood pressure, irritability, nervousness and the potential for substance dependence.

One 2007 study conducted by Malinauskas, Aeby, Overton, Carpenter-Aeby, & Barber-Heidal examined the prevalence of energy drink consumption among college students, the main drivers for use and some of the common side effects that can result from such use.

Researchers invited 496 college students to participate in a 19 question self-report survey designed to keep their identity private. The survey requested the participant’s age and gender, the average number of energy drinks per month during the current semester, reasons for energy drink consumption and side effects of energy drink consumption.

Of the 496 college students who did participate in the study, 51 percent reported drinking more than one energy drink per month during the current semester. The higher percentage of consumption was among female college students as 53 percent were more likely to report drinking more than one energy drink per month than males at 42 percent.

Reasons for consuming energy drinks varied according to the students. Insufficient sleep was reported by 67 percent, to increase energy was true for 65 percent and another 54 percent reported that they mixed the energy drink with alcohol. The most common side effects reported included jolt and crash episodes in 29 percent of users, headaches in 22 percent and heart palpitations in 19 percent.

The limitations of this particular study include a person’s inability to be 100 percent reliable in their retrospective self-report. In addition, recall makes it difficult for participants to accurately represent the frequency of energy drink consumption or even the subsequent side effects over the course of a semester.

The results of this study suggest that energy drinks are indeed popular among college students. Future research may examine daily caffeine consumption, the method of delivery of that caffeine (i.e. coffee, soda, energy drink, etc.) and whether gender or GPA had an impact on consumption.

Additional research should also be done to examine the long-term effects of such high caffeine intakes, as well as the impact when mixed with alcohol. College students could be putting their health at risk and they need to be educated about this risk before they continue with such activities.