The dangers of energy drinks; are you addicted to caffeine? - WFLA News Channel 8

The dangers of energy drinks; are you addicted to caffeine?

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Seventeen year-old Megan Suttles says energy drinks are an absolute necessity to get through the day. Seventeen year-old Megan Suttles says energy drinks are an absolute necessity to get through the day.

For many people, it's a go-to drink that provides a boost of energy, and it's making big bucks for its manufacturers.

In 2012, Beverage Industry magazine reported energy drinks totaled $6.9 billion in sales. Energy shots, those tiny bottles of energy drinks reported nearly $1.1 billion.

Though energy drinks still trail behind many kinds of sodas, their popularity is growing at a rapid pace. And, they're being marketed to a younger audience by sponsoring events and athletes geared toward younger people, like the X-Games.

The promise of more energy to get us through work, the school day, or a big game is tempting. But, is there a price to pay for the ingredients you're consuming?

I did some checking an spoke with experts on the downside of energy drinks, and if knowing the risks would actually encourage people to reduce their consumption or stop drinking them altogether.

Seventeen year-old Megan Suttles says energy drinks are an absolute necessity to get through the day.

"In the morning, I have a cup and a half of coffee. I make it in the morning," she says. "Then, like, later, during school I have a big Monster, you know those big humungous Monsters with the cap things, I have one of them through the school day, and I probably have a few sodas when I get home."

Megan says dependence upon energy drinks to get through the day isn't a big deal to her, as she describes the effects.

"Cause, like, when you first drink it, you shake a lot. But, after a while, you barely shake. You still shake, because of the caffeine, but you just learn to deal with it. After a while. And you think it's worth it. Yeah, to stay awake."

Her mother Gina does not approve, and says watching her daughter go through the physical effects of too much caffeine and other stimulants from energy drinks is difficult.

Gina says energy drinks are, "Almost like a drug, but not as bad as a drug"

But Dr. Patrick Stern, a physician in Johnson City has studied the effects of caffeine and stimulants on the body for years, says caffeine is definitely a drug.

"Oh, it's not a question," he says. "Caffeine, like nicotine is a drug. There's no question. It's the most common addictive drug in the world."

Dr. Sten says the health risks from caffeine and energy-boosting stimulants far outweigh the benefits.

Benefits, Kurt Stevenson says, is worth his two-pot a day coffee habit.

Stevenson says he can feel his body crave it.

"(I feel) Anxious, nervous, some people think I'm cranky," he says.

Get this: A cup of coffee contains an average of 40 to 80 milligrams of caffeine. Energy drinks can range upward from 200 to 300 milligrams. That's like drinking four to five cups of coffee quickly. 

And Dr. Stern says it only takes one to two cups of coffee to get your body hooked, which explains your tired feeling and craving for caffeine when you wake up.

"So most people in the morning think I'm getting this wonderful, uplifting thing, when they're actually coming out of their withdrawal, to get to a neutral setting rather than going into a positive place from the drug," Stern explains. "And most people aren't aware of that, but they're in withdrawal in the morning."

And athletes who believe an energy drink will boost performance may actually be taking a dangerous risk. Dr. Stern says when you exercise or play a sport, you need more blood pumping throughout your body. But energy drinks actually constrict the blood flow to your brain and heart when you need it most.

"There's definitely an association of teens adults for that matter, that when you use one of those, and you vaso-constrict, sudden death may occur," he says. "And, so athletes are particularly at risk, because they're in a strenuous situation, and then they're vaso-constricting when the body needs more blood. They're getting less of it, so those are dangerous. I would never recommend anyone use those."

Whether it's staying awake in school, or getting through the workday, the people I spoke with say despite the dangers, they would continue their habit.

"Everything we do is going to cause trouble, so you might as well have fun with it," Stevenson says. "What's going to happen is going to happen. I'm going to be happy with what I do."

" People tell me that you can die from Monsters and stuff, I'm just that kind of person where, if I don't see it's happened to someone else, they can tell me about it, and I'll watch for it, but, unless I'm not experiencing it, or watching someone else die from that, it don't bother me much," says Suttles.

Dr. Stern says the best way to go is to cut out caffeine completely. For many of us, that just isn't possible. So, the key here is moderation. Know your health status. If you have health problems, are prone to seizures, or are young, you should avoid caffeine and energy drinks.

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