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Study: ER visits involving energy drinks skyrocket

BY BRIANNA JETT | JANUARY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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They can help you study, but they can also trigger a trip to the hospital.

The number of visits to emergency rooms involving energy drinks skyrocketed from 2007 to 2011, according to a report released by the Drug Abuse Warning Network. In four years, the number of hospitalizations because of misuse, abuse, and adverse reactions more than doubled.

The danger of energy drinks lies with its hidden powers — one of which is their ability to disguise how much caffeine is consumed and another it to mask the effects of alcohol.

“You’re getting a big dose of caffeine at once, which isn’t healthy for your body,” said JoAnn Daehler-Miller, a University of Iowa Student Health dietitian.

Receiving caffeine from energy drinks is different than receiving caffeine from coffee for two main reasons: It is very difficult to chug coffee, and coffee contains, on average, less caffeine.

“Energy drinks can be consumed quickly one after another,” said Albert Woodward, the director of the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

Sipping coffee is safer because your body has time to adjust.

“Taking that amount of caffeine over time isn’t so harmful,” Daehler-Miller said.

But just as the drink disguises the caffeine, the caffeine can disguise the effects of alcohol — which becomes dangerous.

“The report points out that the combined effects of alcohol and caffeine mask the other,” Woodward said. “These energy drinks are stimulants and alcohol a depressant, so they act against each other in the body.”

However, they do not neutralize each other. The alcohol is still working, even if it cannot be felt in the same way.

“That’s a really unsafe practice,” Deahler-Miller said. “It can lead people to drink more alcohol because they don’t feel the effects — the caffeine can disguise the alcohol effect.”

College students might be more at risk from the dangers of energy drinks, because until the age of 25, human brains are still developing.

“I think there are some increased risks for college students,” Daehler-Miller said.

UI students are no exception.

“I have seen people mixing them with alcohol and other stimulants,” said Andrew Farrell, a paramedic specialist with the Johnson County Ambulance Service. “I’ve definitely seen it on campus.”

For the most part, the ambulances are called around the same time of the year.

“The time that we see it with the greatest frequency would be around finals or midterms,” he said.
The calls that involve energy drinks show the same symptoms.

“We can see people with a rapid heart beat, chest pain, and difficulty breathing,” he said.

Even with all the dangers involved, the appetite for energy drinks is still there.

“Caffeine can help increase your concentration, your energy level, and your focus,” Daehler-Miller said.

But energy drinks also come with more than just caffeine, which can appear appealing.

“These beverages are both drinks and supplements,” Woodward said. “They are drinks, but they have added vitamins.”

The report points to another reason so many young adults consume energy drinks — marketing.

“Although consumed by a range of age groups, energy drinks were originally marketed to appeal to youths and were reported to have been consumed by 30 to 50 percent of children, adolescents, and young adults,” the report said.

Ultimately, Daehler-Miller advises that if people are going to consume caffeine, they should be aware of how much and avoid consuming too much too fast.

“Just pay attention to all the sources of caffeine,” she said. “I would definitely suggest not doing 5-Hour Energy.”


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