Toxic Effects of Energy Drinks in Addiction Recovery
Energy drinks can have a very toxic effect on addiction recovery.
Energy drinks are a booming industry. We seem to be lapping them up as fast as we can. Since we started to see Red Bull appearing on supermarket shelves a couple of decades ago, sales of cans of lurid, caffeinated, chemical-tasting pop have soared. In fact, they are the second most popular dietary supplement amongst teens and young adults, with men aged 18-34 consuming them most. A third of American teens between 12-17 drink them on a regular basis.
This is troubling. They are pretty toxic in their own right, with plenty of health concerns involved. However, it is even more troubling when you throw recovery into the mix. Energy drinks can be particularly toxic for those looking to overcome addiction.
What do we mean when we talk about ‘energy drinks’? It isn’t simply caffeine and sweetness, otherwise, regular cans of coke alongside 90% of the menu at Starbucks would count. No, there is a bit more to it than this.
There are actually a couple of different kinds of energy drink products, though they share pretty much the same DNA as one another.
I mentioned Red Bull above. This is the common image of an energy drink. It comes served in a can like any other fizzy drink. They can often be seen sold in quantities from around 330 ml to a full pint in some cases. This is the first kind of energy drink, and the one that seems to have gained traction in the popular imagination.
Then there is the second kind, the energy shots. These are sold in smaller containers of much less than 330ml – generally a single mouthful or so. We can think of them as condensed versions of the standard energy drink.
Both contain astonishing amounts of caffeine – up to around 240 mg in a full energy drink, up to around 200 mg in a shot. A can of Coke, on the other hand, will give you about 35 mg, whilst a standard cup of coffee will give you about 100 mg. It is unsafe for fully grown adults to consume more than around 400 mg of caffeine per day.
Energy drinks also often contain additional stimulants, such as guarana (a Brazilian bean that also contains caffeine) and taurine. You may also see carnitine, bitter orange, ginseng, and plenty of sugar, all of which will overload you with energy.
What energy drinks do to the body
A single energy drink will spike your energy levels and mood almost uncontrollably. Two or more per day will put you into dangerous territory, opening you up to the kinds of consequences you will see below. This can make energy drinks especially dangerous for those in recovery from addiction.
How safe are energy drinks?
Energy drinks are not very safe at all, as we have seen – the stimulant content means that a single drink can bring you close to dangerous levels of caffeine. More than one, or one on top of other stimulant drinks like soda and coffee, will take you into potentially harmful, toxic levels.
This makes energy drinks, particularly toxic through addiction recovery.
They are loaded with sugar and sodium, too, and so are completely unhealthy for anyone.
Energy drinks are especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol. We’ve all had a cheeky vodka and Red Bull to pep us up on a night out, right? Well, we shouldn’t. There is plenty that can go wrong when you mix alcohol with energy drinks.
Alcohol and energy drinks - making attaining addiction recovery harder
Mixing uppers (caffeine) with downers (alcohol) is bad for the heart and mixing the two toxic elements is bad for your digestive and renal health.
If you're trying to come in to recovery from alcoholism, combining high caffeine products with alcohol can make you feel less drunk than you actually are. This in turn may cause you to drink more. It will also enable you to party for longer, which will perhaps inevitably cause you to drink more. This can lead to alcohol poisoning. It also works to diminish your inhibitions far more fully than alcohol alone would do, exposing you to risky behaviour.
In fact, a study published in 2015 in Advances in Nutrition showed that people who coupled their booze with energy drinks were four times as likely to think themselves safe to drive than those who just drunk alcohol.
Caffeine, energy drinks, and addiction recovery
As we have seen, the quantity of caffeine and other stimulants included in any given energy drink is quite startling. It goes way beyond the odd cup of black coffee. In many jurisdictions, energy drinks are complexly unregulated. This allows many companies to hide caffeine contents entirely – they simply claim it’s a ‘proprietary blend.’ You will then have no way of knowing how much caffeine you’re taking in. Your energy drink could give you 100 mg, much like a standard shot or two of espresso, or it could give you 300, making it more like five or six shots all in one!
Caffeine brings about a great many side effects.
Some of these effects can be healthy when consumed in moderation. In fact, I always recommend people drink a cup or two of coffee per day. It is rich in antioxidants, can lift your mood, gives you a bit of an energy kick when you need it, and is an inherently social drink, so is best enjoyed with friends.
However, many are negative. And the more caffeine you have, the more the negative side effects kick in. This is where energy drinks can get really toxic for those in recovery or trying to attain recovery – many of the side effects overlap with common negative experiences and health concerns in addiction recovery.
The toxic side effects of energy drinks
There are plenty of side effects associated with caffeine consumption, as above.
Going above the recommended daily limit of 400 mg daily will likely cause some serious heart and blood vessel concerns. These can include rapid spikes in heart rate, high blood pressure, and heart rhythm disturbances, including palpitations. It is also strongly associated with anxiety, and sleep issues such as insomnia, restlessness, dehydration, and kidney damage.
Many of these are issues common during addiction recovery. It is normal to feel anxious whilst overcoming addiction. It is normal to experience issues with sleep. Depending on the addiction you are overcoming, health markers such as heart rate, blood pressure, renal health and so on can be damaged.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. The caffeine and guarana included in most energy drinks is bad for most people. For those coming through addiction, it can serve to compound issues that are already present. If you’re already anxious and struggling to sleep, don’t add to the issue by including energy drinks in your diet. If you have poor health in any sphere because of addiction, likewise don’t use energy drinks.
You have enough to deal with without adding to your load.
It isn’t just caffeine, either. I want to write a word of warning against all carbonated fizzy drinks. They generally contain lots and lots of sugar. Here, a can of standard Coke is as bad as an energy drink. The point stands for both. They will upset your blood sugar balance, decay your teeth, further disrupt your energy levels and sleep patterns, and bring about a whole host of added negative side effects.
As I said, you’ve got enough to deal with.
Energy drink addiction
It is up for debate whether or not caffeine is actually addictive. It certainly isn’t as addictive as drugs like heroin or tobacco. However, it is easy to develop a dependence on it – caffeine can involve addictive symptoms.
These symptoms can include cravings, an inability to go without it, an inability to function without drinking it, a heightened resistance to it, to the point at which the recommended maximum of 400 mg daily will be insufficient, and withdrawal when you go without. Caffeine withdrawal can include severe headaches, low mood, jitters, fatigue, brain fog, and irritability.
Add guarana, taurine and a good dose of sugar to the mix and dependence is actually quite hard to resist for many.
If you have exhibited addictive behaviours in the past, you may be more susceptible to this kind of dependence. Energy drinks can substitute for other mood-enhancing drugs like cocaine or tobacco. The habit of drinking them can closely mimic the habit of drinking alcohol. You may simply be susceptive to growing reliant on an exogenous chemical.
Of course, caffeine is less damaging, both to your health and your finances, and far more socially acceptable than something like cocaine. Energy drink consumption is also legal and better regulated (if barely) than street or party drugs, which is nice.
However, be careful not to switch one dependence for another if you can help it. Be careful not to fall back into addictive patterns and behaviours simply by underestimating caffeine and energy drinks. Those predisposed to addiction can find themselves trapped in the addictive cycle once again.
The harmful effects of energy drinks on your path to recovery
Caffeine is a drug like any other. Though less addictive and less ruinous than many addictive substances, many people fall into depending on it. Behaviour patterns that are at least similar to addiction are commonplace with frequent, chronic users.
If you’re already susceptible to addictive behaviours, you may be wide open to this. It is something to watch against. If you find yourself struggling with less than 3-400 mg of caffeine per day, try cutting your consumption down or even out altogether.
This is hard to do with energy drinks. They can easily take adults above the recommended daily intake. They can do worse for adolescents and children. The caffeine contents involved are simply too high.
High caffeine intakes are troubling for those in recovery for a few reasons. Firstly, energy drinks themselves are known to lower impulse control. Secondly, the side effects of excess caffeine closely mimic the symptoms of withdrawal and recovery – insomnia, heart concerns, nervousness, chronic headaches, peaks and crashes in energy and mood, depression, and so forth.
Keep your caffeine intake reasonable. Skip energy drinks altogether, going for a nice, hot cup of tea or coffee instead. It will keep your addiction recovery far simpler.
Energy drink addiction
It is entirely possible to develop a full-blown addiction to energy drinks. This can severely impact on your physical, mental and emotional health. If you find yourself struggling with an energy drink addiction, reach out to others in recovery and ask for help.
Addiction is addiction and regardless of the substance or behaviour involved, there is always support available from those who have overcome their own addiction problem.
Use our resources here at Recoverlution, try some meetings and connect with like-minded others. It certainly won't hurt and could really help you to find a better quality of addiction recovery.
Read more: Energy drink abuse and addiction