Drinking Energy Drinks in Recovery

Speculations about the harmful effects of energy drinks have been growing in recent years and the spotlight is now on Living Essentials, the company that makes Five Hour Energy drinks.

This week, the New York Times reported on the Food and Drug Administration’s investigation of 13 deaths and 32 hospitalizations blamed on the consumption of Five Hour Energy. The drink, which comes in a shot form, contains 215 milligrams of caffeine among other ingredients like taurine and phenylalanine. It is not clear yet if the deaths were a direct result of Five Hour Energy, as the FDA warned, “It is important to note that submitting a serious adverse event report to the FDA, according the agency itself, is not construed by FDA as an admission that the dietary supplement was involved, caused or contributed to the adverse event being reported.” Skeptics say it is improbable that the ingredients in Five Hour Energy were the culprit in the deaths or hospitalizations but studies have revealed the asscoiated health risks with consumption of such drinks.

Despite these reports, a growing sober trend is the consumption of energy drinks instead of alcohol when “going out” on the town – or going anywhere. While most energy drinks are banned from addiction treatment programs, many addicts in early recovery jump on the bandwagon of consuming copious amounts of Red Bull, Five Hour Energy shots and the like. Some hardliners say that these drinks are “mood altering” and therefore don’t support the code of abstinence. Others say that these drinks give them they energy they need while in post acute withdrawal, or for life in general, after years of bodily damage from which they are still recovering.

While physical recovery is a large part of recovery writ large, studies reveal that these drinks are doing little to help with recovery or with energy. In fact, there are known health risks associated with energy drinks that are antithetical to helping addicts recover, they include:

1.) Greater Risk of Drug Abuse and/or Relapse

According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, students who consumed energy drinks in the second year of college were at greater risk of prescription drug abuse, such as the use of stimulants like Adderall, in their third year of college. Similarly, for those in recovery from alcohol or drug abuse who consume energy drinks, the effects from ingredients like phenylalanine may mimic stimulants such as Adderall or cocaine, which may “trigger” them into using. For the addict, consumption of such drinks for chemically induced energy may not be “enough” and they become at risk of relapse.

2.) Impaired Cognitive Function

According to a Live Science article, energy drinks can impair cognitive function when consumed in excess. The study reports that while 40mg of caffeine improved student performance on a reaction test they were given, students who drank an excess of 80 mg, such as a can of Red Bull or shot of Five Hour Energy, had poorer performance on the same test.

Such studies are particularly important for those in early recovery to consider, especially those in post acute withdrawal whose cognitive functions are just beginning to heal. With the growing trend of people attending 12-Step meetings with super sized energy drinks in tow, they may want to consider how such drinks impact their recovery. It is no wonder many drug rehab centers have prohibited the consumption of such drinks, because while there is only speculation so far on the deaths from Five Hour Energy and other said detriments of energy drinks, it just isn’t worth the risk – especially when one is just re-starting their lives.