Is Monster your jam? Do Red Bulls give you wings? Sometimes, it feels like nothing can get you going like your favorite energy drink. But these are packed with ingredients like caffeine that can be dangerous in high doses.
Here’s what you need to know about the dark side of energy drinks and what to do if you think you or someone you know may have had too many.
Can you die from energy drinks?
It’s extremely rare, but there have been a handful of deaths linked to energy drinks. You’re more at risk if you’re combining energy drinks with other substances or if you have an underlying heart condition.
And, in this case, what doesn’t kill you won’t make your body any stronger. In 2011, more than 20,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. were related to energy drinks.
What exactly is lurking in that neon can of energy? Caffeine is the biggie. Common 16 ounce energy drinks contain 70 to 240 milligrams of caffeine per 16-ounce container. But some, like Bang Energy, can have upward of 300 milligrams. (For reference, an average 16-ounce cup of joe is about 200 milligrams of caffeine.)
Stacking energy drinks and coffee means you can get a *lot* of caffeine pretty quickly. According to the FDA, getting 400 milligrams of this stimulant per day isn’t usually associated with nasty side effects, but some people might be more sensitive to caffeine.
True caffeine toxicity, or a caffeine overdose, tends to start at about 1,000 milligrams per day for adults.
What’s the big deal about all that caffeine? Getting way too much caffeine could lead to potentially serious symptoms like an irregular heartbeat or seizures.
Energy drinks can get their “energy” from different sources. (It’s also common for several stimulants to be in one drink.) Here are some common ingredients to check for on your fave drink’s ingredient list.
- Guarana. A plant that contains caffeine and other energizing chemicals. It’s absorbed slower than caffeine from coffee so the effects last longer.
- Yerba mate. A tea made from parts of a South American plant. It contains caffeine.
- Taurine. An amino acid that’s important to your immune and nervous systems.
- L-carnitine. A chemical that your body can make out of certain amino acids. It helps your body release energy.
- Sugar. Like a quick burst of easy-to-use energy for your body — but getting too much can be bad for your bod. (FYI: There are plenty of sugar-free energy drink options to choose from, too.)
Research shows a possible relationship between energy drink use and a range of issues, including:
- heart issues
- aggressive behavior
- mental health disorders (like anxiety and depression)
- stomach aches
- tooth decay
- kidney damage
Here’s a closer look at the top dangers associated with guzzling energy drinks.
1. Could hurt your heart
Caffeine is the real heartbreaker here. Several studies have also found that energy drinks increase heart rate and blood pressure. If you have these effects consistently, that can put extra pressure on your ticker and cause issues in the future.
High blood pressure is linked to a higher risk of heart failure.
2. Ramps up your anxiety
Is it worth the worry? Research shows that people who drink energy drinks can experience anxiety and other mental health issues. This could be related to the way that energy drinks affect your sleep.
Getting too much caffeine can mess up your sleep schedule and make it harder for you to fall asleep. That’s not good news for your mental health.
3. Might cause seizures
One serious possible side effect of energy drinks are seizures. There have been seizures in young adults that are linked to getting too much caffeine.
If you have a heart condition, diabetes, or a mood disorder, be extremely careful of how much caffeine you’re getting. You may be at a higher risk of having a potentially life threatening side effect from overdoing it on energy drinks.
Mixing alcohol and energy drinks
Your body has a way of telling you that you’re drunk and should stop drinking: you get tired. Adding an energy drink to the equation can counteract that sleepy signal, but it’s not a good idea.
The extra boost of energy can make it more likely that you’ll keep drinking, increasing your risk of dehydration and even alcohol poisoning.
That all depends on how much caffeine is in your energy drink, and whether you’ve consumed other forms of caffeine. Scientists report that negative effects start around 200 milligrams of caffeine and get worse the more you have.
How much is enough to kill you? Studies suggest that more than 5,000 milligrams of caffeine can be lethal, but there has been one death recorded after a 28-year-old man had only 3 energy drinks.
Reading energy drink labels
Generally, you should be able to find the caffeine content of an energy drink near its nutrition facts, especially if it’s one of the big energy drink brands.
However, it’s also possible that you won’t know exactly how much caffeine you’re getting in each can. It’s less common, but some energy drinks may be sold “dietary supplements.” That means you may see that a drink “contains caffeine” without knowing the amount.
If you’re concerned that you or a friend drank too many energy drinks, there are warning signs you can watch out for. Look for these signs of a caffeine overdose:
- irregular heartbeat
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms after drinking energy drinks, visit the emergency room or call 911.
While there are very few examples of deaths directly related to energy drinks, it is possible to overdo it. Too much caffeine in any form can lead to cardiovascular problems, as well as anxiety and agitation.
Drinking alcohol with energy drinks is especially dangerous because it’s associated with riskier behavior and heavier drinking. Take it easy with the caffeine, especially if you’re younger or have risk factors for heart issues or mental illnesses.