If you think the new, snortable, chocolate response to the energy drink seems like an unsafe gateway to cocaine use, you’re probably right, according to a new study from University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers, who concluded that regular consumption of even just standard energy drinks is linked to future drug abuse, particularly of cocaine.
The five-year study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, tracked 1,099 individuals from ages 21 to 25. Researchers found that participants who regularly drank energy drinks for a sustained period of time were way more likely to use cocaine and prescription pills that weren’t prescribed; they were also more likely to fall into alcoholism.
“The results suggest that energy drink users might be at heightened risk for other substance use, particularly stimulants,” said Dr. Amelia Arria, an associate professor of behavioral and community health at UMD and the director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, the group that led the study. “Because of the longitudinal design of this study, and the fact that we were able to take into account other factors that would be related to risk for substance use, this study provides evidence of a specific contribution of energy drink consumption to subsequent substance use.”
Unlike sodas, energy drinks aren’t regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration. This means energy drink companies aren’t forced to list their beverages’ caffeine contents or other ingredients on containers. Dr. Arria is an advocate for keeping energy drinks out of the hands of adolescents, which is why she believes the next step is to carry out a similar study with a younger test group.
“Future studies should focus on younger people, because we know that they too are regularly consuming energy drinks,” Dr. Arria suggests. “We want to know whether or not adolescents are similarly at risk for future substance use.”