Another Reason To Skip Energy Drinks: They Could Cause Depression and Anxiety

Energy drinks are bad news. Not only have they been linked to deaths and other physical dangers, but heavily caffeinated drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Full Throttle can also affect our mental health, including increasing our risk for depression and anxiety, according to certified clinical nutritionist, speaker and author who has appeared on the Dr. Oz Show and NPR, Dr. Kaayla Daniel.  Energy drinks, she says, are risky and dangerous for our mental health. Find out why:

What is in most energy drinks?

Drinks like Red Bull, Full Throttle, Jolt, Amp contain caffeine plus sweeteners in the forms of glucuronolactone, sucrose and/or glucose. Some contain an extract from guarana seeds, a berry that has a stimulating effect on the body. Some also contain the amino acid taurine, which is beneficial for many people, but cannot possibly compensate for the low nutritional value of the remaining ingredient or the risk factor of extremely high caffeine content.

The biggest problem is we have no way of knowing how much caffeine is in these drinks. The labels don’t include this info. Because energy drinks are marketed as supplements, not food products, manufacturers can apparently load them up with caffeine without properly informing consumers. My understanding is the caffeine content of these drinks ranges from 100 to a whopping 430 mg per 12 ounces, which is considerably more than the 35 mg found in the usual can of Coca Cola. A study out of Johns Hopkins published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in 2008 includes the statement, “The caffeine content of energy drinks varies over a 10-fold range, with some containing the equivalent of 14 cans of Coca Cola, yet the caffeine amounts are unlabeled and few include warnings about potential health risks of caffeine intoxification.”

Wow,that’s a ton of caffeine. What happens to your body when you drink one of these?

The sugar and caffeine provoke a quick burst of energy. It’s not a lasting effect, but rather leads to rising and crashing blood sugar levels, adversely affecting both physical energy and mental balance.

These products are heavily promoted to college students who may wish to forgo sleep for late night studying or partying. The highest risk comes from their use energy drinks along with alcohol for partying. Going to a bar and drinking alcohol and then consuming energy drinks to enhance concentration, performance, reaction speed etc is a prescription for disaster. The alcohol would be a depressant; the energy drink a stimulant. That creates a push-pull on the body that is extremely stressful, can create heart arrhythmias and could conceivably lead to heart failure.

Students who drink alcohol along with energy drinks are also more likely to get drunk much more often. This increases the likelihood of risky behavior, including violence. A study out of Johns Hopkins found that 27 % of college students mix energy drinks & alcohol once a month.

What are the possible mental and physical health consequences of drinking these regularly?

No one really knows as energy drinks are comparatively new in the marketplace. This is definitely not a case of Mother Nature’s traditional wisdom, but rather of Father Technology’s profit making and experimentation.

The ads target college students and twenty somethings so it may be years before the long-term cause and effect become apparent. On a more immediate level, caffeine intoxication is a recognized clinical syndrome, marked by anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, tremors, rapid heartbeat, pacing, insomnia etc. Caffeine intoxication occasionally causes arrhythmias leading to death.

Gastrointestinal upset is also commonplace, with excess caffeine damaging the gut lining, leading to severe pain.

Can energy drinks contribute to anxiety or depression? And if so, how?

Sure, and in much the same way sugar and/or caffeine would. People who go off the drug caffeine can become depressed as part of the withdrawal reaction. Irritability, fatigue and headaches are other withdrawal symptoms.

Can they make an existing case of anxiety or depression worse?

I would think the caffeine and sugar in such beverages would exacerbate existing anxiety, paranoia etc. Depressed people would feel very bad indeed when the crash follows the energy boost.

Caffeine is a “wake up” chemical. People start drinking beverages with caffeine for mental clarity and alertness, but chronic use can lead to lethargy, fatigue and malaise. The caffeine depletes the B vitamins, which are already depleted in most people who are anxious or depressed. People who “need” caffeine to get moving tend to have exhausted or burned out thyroid and adrenal glands.

Have you heard about cases where people drank energy drinks and suffered mental health issues? There have been stories in the news about kids/teens committing suicide as a result of these drinks…true?

It makes sense that energy drinks could be a contributing factor for kids and teens feeling suicidal. Caffeine intoxication keeps the body in “fight or flight” mode. This can leave people feeling very frightened and threatened. People taking in too much caffeine feel the physical symptoms of increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and panic akin to an outside “emergency.”

If someone has a mental health condition, should they avoid energy drinks?

I advise everyone to avoid energy drinks and also soda, regular or diet. Those with mental or physical health problems would suffer the worst effects. As a nutritionist, I strive to address underlying nutritional deficiencies and imbalances, and advise clients against sugar, caffeine and other quick “feel good” attempted fixes. People who rely on energy drinks need to take a good look at their diet and lifestyle and quit falling for a quick fix. Fatigue and lethargy can only properly be addressed with an optimum diet (including high-quality real foods, whole foods and slow foods, not fast foods and junk foods), less stressful lifestyle, adequate sleep and sufficient exercise. People who seek the quick fix of energy drinks but fail to address these issues are going to skid off their fast track into a ditch.

Any other mental health dangers of these drinks?

Caffeine is a legal drug. Some think it is a gateway drug. Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins thinks energy drinks can serve as a “gateway product” to drug abuse.




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    • Keith Townsend

      This was a superinformative article for me. I just recently broke my caffeine addiction of 10+ years by changing my diet. Going plant based and juicing now has broke me from energy drinks and stimulants. It was definitely all pschological to drink the energy drinks. They left me feeling me worse than before I drank on. Thanks for the great article! Tweeting this out

    • Sanga

      Well written. Informative.

    • Franziska von Hacht

      Excellent article… I TOTALLY agree! God bless. :-)

    • genebernice

      Is it safe to have caffeine during pregnancy? I’m of postpartum depression.Signs
      Of Depression

      • Passing Through

        A persons overall nutrition must be accounted for. Most people do not know what they are putting into their bodies while just eating food. Failure to read and, more importantly understand, the food labels will lead to more health complications than just drinking energy drinks alone. So much of what is being sold to us is not good for us–now, compound that with energy drinks(and perhaps those of us who do not drink enough water, if any)–and you have some serious risks associated with consuming an energy product.

        That doesn’t mean the energy dink itself is the leading cause of the symptoms and afflictions mentioned in this article. If you are an otherwise healthy person who eats organic foods, daily fruits and veggies AND exercises regularly–then drinking energy drinks every day may have little to no ill effects, as the healthy lifestyle will offset the symptoms and afflictions as associated with energy drinks.

        Although, cautious should be heeded to those with a sensitivity to caffeine. As always, if you have preexisting conditions, you need to be mindful prior to making the decision to consume an energy drink or indeed, any vascular dilator. Specifically, if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you should avoid products like these. However, if you are really set on drinking them, you should speak with your doctor first.

        As a rule, I always drink at least one bottle of water per serving of energy drink. Pre work out supplements require you to drink copious amounts of water while taking the product… Again, people not reading their labels or just ignoring them altogether will lead to the aforementioned symptoms and afflictions; possibly worse depending on your health disposition.

        Failure to consume enough water while using these products may lead to liver damage, kidney damage and other health complications. You must keep flushing your system and staying hydrated. The increased energy will keep you burning up calories, causing you to sweat away your water. It happens faster than you realize. It is also important to eat more than your are burning, when taking these products. The increased activity will reduce your calories quickly, also commonly found in thermogenic products: Use with extreme caution.

        The energy you receive from energy drinks and pre workout supplements is merely intended to be a boost, not a substitute for the energy you would derive from a hearty meal. Remember to get 2000 calories per day, minimum; more if you are very active. Also note, do not get your 2000 from junk food or fast burning sugars, like candy and sweets. Eat fruit, it will keep you sated longer, in addition to proteins. I won’t go into the science as to why, but just keep the junk food and fast food away from your system.

        I’m not for or against the use of these products, but as individuals, it is our sole responsibility to know the risks ahead of time; and if we take optimal care of our overall health, then the risks are reduced. Then again, if we do take full responsibility for our optimal health by proper diet and exercise, then we may not feel the need to turn to energy drinks in the first place.

        I am a living example of what I have stated, as I take very good care of myself, but I’ll admit, I enjoy my energy drinks. Am I addicted? No. Do they adversely affect me? No.

        Why? I drink responsibly.

        Gee… where else have I heard that?

    • Ryan

      I must say I am a huge drinker of energy drinks. I am 25 and have drank them consistently for the past few years. I honestly can’t remember the last time I have NOT had an energy drink. I usually have one-two a day and have had about five-six as my record all time high.

      I am of two minds of this article: denial and acceptance. I have anxiety and am currently seeing a therapist to mull over the issues. And I do suffer from depression late at night, but is this due to energy drinks or my poor habits?

      I would say I stay up late due to my caffeine intake and need it to get going. And perhaps my thyroid and adrenal glands are burned out. That was an interesting bit. I can’t remember the last time I had natural energy. In fact I am too scared to feel what that is again.

      I still remember how my habit started. A Redbull promoter came by my work and gave me 10 free redbulls. That’s right 10! I was in heaven. I drank them before all of my daily activities – running, going out, staying up late, first thing in the morning – just as an experiment. However, this formed a habit. So much for free energy drinks I started buying redbulls daily.

      Since then I have tried nearly every energy drink out, all flavors, sugar and sugar-free. I can tell you exactly which one is good for which occasion. Feeling a little tired but don’t want to say up all night? Easy – Go-Girl. Want to really crank up and party? Rockstar. Want to die? Redline. I have so much information regarding them. And I do not think they are bad for you – until you experience a caffeine headache. And oh my gosh they suck. You close your eyes and just hope it will end.

      I go with moderation is key. They are fine. And in most cases do not cause depression for me. But sometimes they do if I had to many or have forgone regular healthy habits such as saying “screw you” to sleeps face.

      Thanks for the article. Really informational. And for the record I just consumed a Rockstar, 8.4 oz redbull, and a Starbucks double shot. I really think I should quit but lets face it I am addicted. Addicted. Addicted. Addicted. Addicted. Times infinite.

    • Natasha

      I’ve been drinking them since last fall, Rockstars are my kryptonite… or they were anyways. I would drink one a day and fool myself into believing that all the vitamin B in them was good for me because I’m B and D deficient. November was my first major anxiety attack, full blown too. Crying, shaking, nausea, dizziness, vomiting… Thought I was dying, until I described my symptoms to my friend, who has had anxiety most of her life and she filled me in on what it was. I’ve had several attacks since, never linked the Rockstar to it until now. My last full blown attack was 1 week and 3 days ago on a saturday. I was CRAVING water, which I NEVER drink, and have continued it ever since. Felt super fijjity until the following thursday and friday when I felt great. Today’s tuesday and I just had my first Rockstar since that saturday, and low n behold, my heart is plapittating (sp?), I feel fijjity… I think I can control it though, especially since I can clearly see the link now. You can’t argue with feeling fine for days, drinking one and feeling it start all over again. Today was my last one, goodbye ol friend, you will be missed, you tasted sooo good too…

    • addict

      I have been drinking redbull first thing every morning for about the past 15 yrs, one can sometimes 2, I have no health issues. How ever I am regularly anxious, stressed, and angry. I am addicted to the stuff and can’t seem to give it up. Some times I get tremors after drinking it and feel a little dizzy. I would like to have control of when I drink it but it has become a habit, like having a coffee in the morning, only I don’t drink tea or coffee, I can’t stand the smell of it. I drink the full sugar one, would the low sugar one be better even tho it has aspartame? How can I get off the stuff all together!!!
      P.S if any one out there would like to do some tests on me to find out how it has affected me over 15 yrs I am willing to take part.