Stressed Students Driven to Drink: Energy drinks remain popular, despite health risks

By Natalie Butz
Copy Editor

Despite well-publicized health risks, many Washington College students are still reaching for energy drinks when faced with all-nighters and the stress of exam weeks.

Since August, Retail Manager Jennifer Sipala said that over 1,037 energy drinks have been sold on campus. The exact number is not known because Sipala only began tracking individual items sold at Java George this semester.

Of the brands, Red Bull is the definite favorite. An estimated 631 cans have been sold on campus since August.

This presents some serious concerns for the health of WC students. According to the Los Angeles Times, the popular energy supplement 5-Hour Energy contains 8,333 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin B-12 and 2,000 percent of the recommended daily dosage of vitamin B-6. A large can of Red Bull has 360 percent of the RDA of vitamin B-6, 120 percent of B-12 and 140 percent of B-3.

More troubling to Health Services Clinical Director Dawn Nordhoff is that students often combine energy drinks with alcohol.

“The caffeine prevents you from feeling the adverse effects of alcohol so students are prone to drink more than they normally would,” said Nordhoff.

Even when not combined with alcohol, a recent study done by Johns Hopkins University revealed that many students report ‘crashing,’ headaches and heart palpitations when consuming energy drinks. Other symptoms of
overdoses of caffeine (the main ingredient in energy drinks) include anxiousness, insomnia, restlessness and tremors, according to Elements 4 Health.

For some students, the health risks associated with energy drinks are even to keep them away.

“I don’t really drink energy drinks because I’m a premed major and I know how bad they are for you,” said senior Mandy Moore.

But some students feel the need to turn to them when faced with a late night of studying.

“I don’t drink energy drinks that often. I probably have on average one every week or two. I really only use them when I am going to be up late studying for a big exam. During finals week, I can sometimes drink one a day or more,” said junior Sean Harrison.

Others admit to being almost completely dependent on them.

Senior Eve Nealon said that during her freshman and sophomore year, she was drinking up to two energy
drinks a day. Nealon experienced many of the negative symptoms associated with energy drinks.

“At my worst, when I was drinking two energy drinks a day. I lost like, 20 pounds. I was really pale, everyone thought I was sick and I started having hallucinations. It’s definitely not healthy,” said Nealon. Nealon is skeptical that energy drinks alone are to blame for caffeine overdoses.

“I think more people are addicted to the Java George, which when you think about it isn’t much better for you, especially with all the sugar that’s in a caramel macchiato or a white chocolate mocha,” said Nealon.

Still, Nordhoff said, ““We don’t see a lot of people come in with these problems who are just drinking coffee and tea.”

Even more sobering is that consuming energy drinks may not even make you more productive.

“Using them to pull an all-nighter is a pretty bad idea in my opinion.

I’ve done it, and they don’t actually help you focus, they just make you unable to sleep, so you’re not actually accomplishing as much as you think. In addition, the next day you can barely function, and drinking more energy drinks doesn’t help,” said senior Will Malkus.

How the excessive amounts of caffeine found in popular energy drinks interacts with other additives is also still a mystery.

“All those energy drinks contain other ingredients besides caffeine, whether its ginseng or yohimbine.

No one has studied yet what effects these ingredients can have when combined with caffeine or with other medications that students may be taking,” said Nordhoff.

But many students still continue to down Red Bull and Monster in attempts to keep up with their academics.

“I think part of the reason people are so caffeine dependent on this campus is that everyone has really stressful work loads lead people to have late nights. Energy drinks offer a last ditch effort to function on little sleep. Better sleeping habits would probably lead to decreased use,” said Nealon.

March 4, 2011
Volume LXXXI Issue 17

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