Just How Bad Are Energy Drinks for Recovering People?

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For those recovering from alcohol and drug addictions, the urge to find a fix seems to be never-ending. To replace their drug of choice, the recovering addict will find other means to soothe their minds and souls. A replacement “high” that has become common among recovering people is the use of energy drinks. Energy drinks’ combination of caffeine, vitamins, and herbs can provide the kick they need, and, it’s legal and can be found at any corner store. Energy drinks can be a healthier alternative to drugs and alcohol, but what most don’t known is that the very things that make energy drinks so popular can also lead to active addiction.

Energy Drinks Aren’t That Bad For Me, Right?

People in recovery will balk at the notion that energy drinks can be addictive or pose health risks. Some common justifications for drinking energy drinks: “This is much better than (drinking/snorting/smoking/shooting up)”

Anything done in moderation is not going to harm me or anyone else.”“There is nothing wrong with caffeine…it is safe.”“I can buy energy drinks anywhere…they can’t be all that bad.”

In some respects, these claims do contain some truth. Some studies have suggested that consuming energy drinks may improve heart function and can provide a healthy energy boost. While this may be true, there are hidden dangers associated with energy drinks that can pose real threats to health and sobriety. Not only can these dangers threaten your sobriety, but the side effects of energy drinks can be life-threatening.

How Bad Are Energy Drinks For Those In Recovery?

What may come as a shock is that caffeine is classified as a drug. Caffeine crosses the blood/brain barrier and stimulates the nervous system causing increased alertness and insomnia. Those who use caffeine build a tolerance and experience withdrawals. While caffeine is an effective diuretic and is useful in the treatment of asthma people who consume excessive amounts can experience caffeine intoxication which can include increased agitation and irritability. Other complications from caffeine intoxication can include heart issues, seizures, psychosis, and even death.

Many energy drinks also include the amino acid taurine. Commonly found in meat, fish, and eggs taurine is used in energy drinks to help increase mental clarity and physical performance. However, excessive amounts of taurine, along with caffeine and sugar, has unnatural effects on the central nervous system. One of the functions that can be impaired is in the way stress is handled. If the ways stress is handled are impaired any new coping skills that were learned in treatment can also be impaired. Therefore, the old ways in which we dealt with stress (drugs and alcohol) resurface.

In a posting on the Alternatives for Alcohol website, the following point was made: “When you consume caffeine in any form, it stimulates the liver to dump large doses of glycogen (sugar) reserves into the bloodstream. This results in a sugar high, and then insulin is released to control the blood sugar levels and the blood sugar drops very rapidly to below-normal levels and symptoms such as depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and then cravings for sugar, alcohol or your substance of choice may appear.” Caffeine addiction, and namely the use of energy drinks, can be a major pitfall for the recovering addict. While the use of energy drinks in moderation is not harmful if done in moderation, caffeine is a mood-altering drug and its use needs to be monitored closely. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of caffeine addiction it is best to consult with a doctor or addiction specialist.

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  • As a Clinical Social Worker with credentials in substance abuse, along with my colleagues, Energy Drinks (considered contraband in our residential program) are consumed by many of our patients. They have been informed of how these beverages are but “loopholes” in sobriety. This info is a “no-brainer” when one knows the “buzz” of these “mood altering substances.”

    I found your brief article makes its point in clear, direct language. Copies will be added to our “arsenal” of information….We keep trying

    Thank you very much!

  • In our facility we have now made it a policy that energy drinks are contraband and not allowed. We were having client state that they only had an energy drink yet testing positive for alcohol. We do allow coffee and the strength of coffee but it is not limited to how much/how long. It would be nice to see more research done on energy drinks/shot to see how else they are affecting the body/mind.

  • Energy drinks without sugar are great to avoid alcohol and friends offering a drink in a party.
    But if they have sugar you feel almost like a high. That’s how I found this website.
    So: Yes to energy drinks if they’re sugar free, to avoid alcohol at parties.

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