14th July 2020
Are Energy Drinks Addictive? What to Know and How to Quit
Energy drinks are popular beverages meant to improve energy, alertness, and concentration.
They contain ingredients that aim to boost these mental and physical aspects, such as caffeine, sugar, B vitamins, herbal extracts, and amino acid derivatives like L-taurine.
While they can deliver benefits, energy drinks have a number of associated health concerns related to excessive amounts of caffeine and sugar, as well as their artificial sweetener content. One of these key concerns is addiction and dependence.
This article explores energy drink addiction, its symptoms and side effects, and how to prevent or stop it.
What is energy drink addiction?
An addiction is a psychological condition that involves an ongoing desire to use a substance or engage in a behaviour, despite its negative consequences.
Although they may not seem as harmful as drug addictions, food addictions, such as an energy drink addiction, share many behavioural similarities.
What can make energy drinks addictive to some people is they contain several potentially habit-forming substances, such as caffeine, as well as sugar or artificial sweeteners.
There’s no official definition for an energy drink addiction. However, for the purpose of this article, it will be defined as drinking excessive amounts of energy drinks without being able to control your intake.
Signs of an addiction
An addiction to energy drinks can involve addictive symptoms that are related to brain and nervous system function, such as the following:
- strong cravings
- a mental image of drinking energy drinks
- the inability to control your energy drink intake
Another sign is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from energy drinks, such as headaches, irritability, fatigue, and a depressed mood.
An energy drink addiction can have other negative side effects.
For starters, energy drinks are acidic, and frequently consuming them can discolour your teeth and wear out your enamel over time. This can make you more prone to dental issues, such as cavities.
This side effect is more concerning if you regularly drink full-sugar energy drinks, as the sugar feeds the bacteria that form plaque, which promotes tooth decay.
Additionally, frequent energy drink consumption may cause weight gain.
Full-sugar energy drinks contain around 110 calories - all from sugar - per 8.4-ounce (250-mL) serving. But larger cans, such as 20-ounce (590-mL) ones, can easily add an extra 275 calories or more per day, depending on how many cans you drink.
Studies have also linked frequent energy drink and sugar-sweetened beverage intake to chronic health issues, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and kidney disorders.
While sugar-free energy drink options may seem more appealing due to their low sugar and calorie content, they still contain just as much caffeine. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome).
Aside from health issues, regularly purchasing energy drinks can affect your finances. Purchasing one, two, or more energy drinks daily can cost as much as a cigarette addiction.
How addiction happens
An energy drink addiction can happen gradually or quickly.
Several factors play a role in determining how an addiction develops, including your personal and family history, as well as your brain chemistry.
The issue with energy drinks, especially ones high in caffeine and sugar, is that they can cause your brain to release higher amounts of dopamine, the feel-good hormone.
However, the downside is that the more often you consume energy drinks, the less pleasure you experience from the dopamine response. This can lead you to consume increasing amounts to continue experiencing the dopamine response, leading to dependence.
Energy drinks can also be addictive from a psychological perspective. Some people may feel they cannot perform their day-to-day tasks as well without energy drinks, leading to dependence.
Again, keep in mind that various factors play a role in developing a dependence on energy drinks, and these factors vary by individual.
How to quit energy drinks
While it may seem hard to quit energy drinks, there are several ways to do so.
The two key ways to break an addiction include:
1. Quitting cold turkey. This involves quitting energy drinks all at once, but it may result in withdrawal symptoms. That said, it may help your body recover from an energy drink addiction faster than tapering your intake.
2. Tapering your intake. This involves reducing your energy drink intake slowly and methodically until you’re able to quit. Though it takes longer, it typically can help you avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s best to choose one that best suits your current lifestyle and personality.
What’s more, there’s a large mental component to quitting energy drinks. If you’re struggling to quit, it can be worthwhile to seek professional help.
How to manage withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are a key reason why it’s hard to quit addictive substances.
They often manifest when you’re unable to access the substance, such as energy drinks, and they’re more likely to occur when you quit cold turkey.
Withdrawal symptoms you may experience with an energy drink addiction include headaches, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and a depressed mood.
Often, these withdrawal symptoms are related to quitting caffeine, and they may last 2–9 days.
If you struggle to manage these withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit, you should seek support from your healthcare professional.
Alternatives to energy drinks
Sometimes, the easiest way to fight an energy drink addiction is to replace it with something similar.
Here are some healthier alternatives that are either free of or lower in caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners:
- coffee, ideally decaf
- water, infused with your favourite fruits
- sparkling water, ideally unsweetened
- green tea, including bottled sparkling versions
- herbal or fruit teas
- kombucha, or fermented tea
Other lifestyle tips
In addition to the options above, below are some lifestyle changes that can help keep you on the right track when trying to quit energy drinks:
- Shift your thought process. If you notice a craving coming on, try to distance yourself from the thought or change your environment, such as by going for a walk.
- Keep it out of the household. Ensuring that there are no energy drinks in your household or easy-to-access areas can help reduce temptation and minimise cravings.
- Create a support system. Quitting any substance alone can be difficult. It can be a good idea to let the people closest to you know that you’re trying to quit, so they can keep you on the right track and accountable.
- Manage your stress levels. Stress may induce cravings for food and beverages, so participating in stress-relieving activities, such as regular exercise, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and deep breathing, may help manage cravings.
The bottom line
An energy drink addiction can have a serious effect on your health.
Drinking excessive amounts may lead to tooth decay, weight gain, and chronic diseases, such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes. It can also put a strain on your finances.
You can quit energy drinks cold turkey or taper your intake gradually, and each option has pros and cons.
If you find it difficult to moderate your energy drink intake, consider seeking the support of your healthcare provider.
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