Consuming caffeinated energy drinks regularly can put young adults at the risk of alcoholism and drug abuse later in life, a study warns.
Researchers at University of Maryland (UMD) in the US recruited participants when they were enrolled as college students, and were surveyed at regular intervals to track changes in various health and risk-taking behaviours, including energy drink consumption and drug use.
They found evidence that individuals who regularly consumed highly caffeinated energy drinks, and sustained that consumption over time, were significantly more likely to use cocaine, non-medically use prescription stimulants (NPS), and be at risk for alcohol use disorder (AUD) at age 25.
"The results suggest that energy drink users might be at heightened risk for other substance use, particularly stimulants," said Amelia Arria from UMD.
Previous studies have shown the relationship between energy drink (ED) consumption and high-risk drinking behaviours, as well as the likelihood of other accompanying drug use.
The new study is the first to examine the unique effect of different trajectories of ED consumption on likelihood of later substance use, researchers said.
The team found that more than half (51.4 per cent) of the 1,099 study participants fell into the group with a "persistent trajectory," meaning that they sustained their energy drink consumption over time.
Members of this group were significantly more likely to be using stimulant drugs such as cocaine and prescription stimulants non-medically and be at risk for alcohol use disorder at age 25, researchers said.
The study singles out ED consumption as the contributory factor because they controlled for the effects of demographics, sensation-seeking behaviours, other caffeine consumption, and prior substance use at age 21, they said.
Those in the "intermediate trajectory" group (17.4 per cent) were also at an increased risk for using cocaine and NAPS relative to those in the "non-use trajectory" who never consumed energy drinks (20.6 per cent).
Members of the "desisting trajectory" group (those whose consumption declined steadily over time) and the non-use group were not at higher risk for any substance use measures that were tested, researchers said.
The study was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.