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Parenthood Plus: January 24, 2012

Get Spiked

In the five-year period from 2005 to 2009 there was a dramatic increase in emergency room visits related to nonalcoholic energy drinks, according to a report issued on November 22, 2011 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Just about half of those emergency room visits were made by 18- to 25-year-olds who were found to be using alcohol, illicit drugs or pharmaceuticals.

What are energy drinks? They are highly-caffeinated flavored beverages for sale in cans and bottles in grocery stores and vending machines. Children, adolescents and young adults - half of the energy-drink market - are the primary targets of energy-drink marketing.

One popular energy drink – Red Bull – bills its beverage as “developed for people who want to have a clear and focused mind, perform physically, are dynamic and performance-oriented.”

Another popular drink, ROCKSTAR, targets young skateboarders. Here is their rap: “Bigger. Better. Faster. Stronger. ROCKSTAR is the world’s most powerful energy drink. Enhanced with the potent herbal blend of Guarana, Ginkgo, Ginseng and Milk Thistle, ROCKSTAR is scientifically formulated to provide an incredible energy boost for those who lead active and exhausting lifestyles – from athletes to rock stars.” Although they highlight the “herbal blend,” they conveniently leave out the 80 milligrams of caffeine listed in ROCKSTAR’s ingredients.

These are just two illustrations of seductive messages, aimed at young people and promising a quick-fix for improving performance. Parents, teachers, coaches and others who care about kids need to educate them to the fact that energy drinks are not the answer to better performance on the athletic field or in the classroom.

There are numerous studies that point to the medical risks of excessive caffeine intake (for example, arrhythmias, hypertension, dehydration and more serious medical conditions). When mixed with alcohol and other drugs, the level of danger increases dramatically.

The term “energy drink” is a misnomer for a product that should be more accurately labeled as a “stimulant drug-containing drink.” Some people believe that criticism about energy drinks is an overreaction - much ado about nothing. After all, as they might say, if the active ingredient in energy drinks – caffeine – is the same substance contained in coffee, what’s the big deal? No one is making a fuss about coffee or trying to get it banned or controlled.

Coffee tends to be viewed as an adult beverage, while energy drinks are aimed at the youth market with little regard for health risks and the consequences of mixing these beverages with alcohol and other drugs.

“Get spiked,” “Party like a rockstar,” and “Feel the freak” are slogans that clearly demonstrate the marketing strategies of energy-drink companies. “The language and images of such advertising are not directed at mature adults. If anything, the marketing of energy drinks removes all ambiguity about whom these products are meant to appeal to: teens and young adults,” according to Russ Paddock of the United States Sports Academy.

Parents, teachers and coaches need to educate young people about the risks to their health and well-being of using energy drinks as an easy alternative to exercise, sleep and a healthy diet – the “keys to quality performance, sustained success and overall wellness,” according to Pamela S. Hyde of SAMHSA.

The full report on Emergency Department Visits Involving Energy Drinks from SAMHSA’s 2005 - 2009 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) can be found on the Internet at: http://www.samhsa. gov/data/2k11/WEB_DAWN_089/WEB_DAWN_089_HTML.pdf