Is Red Bull Energy Drink the New Gateway Drug for Kids?


February 9, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

hulk and drink ad

All natural, baby. If, by all natural you mean lots of chemicals you can’t even pronounce.

We’ve all seen the sport drink ads which are heavily marketed to kids and teens. Athletes doing heroic feats on the basketball court or football field. Modern day gladiators. Grunting, grimacing, afterwards, they seem to be sweating bullets of neon green. “Give your body what it thirsts for,” or “Just Do it” or “The Warrior in you demands only the best,” these ads implore us. Our heroes hear and heed the call of the sports drink marketer. They reach for a bottle. Then, a close-up as our hero guzzles down some sport drink heavily laced with caffeine and electrolytes the rest of us probably couldn’t use up in a lifetime.

The message is clear and emphatic as a LeBron dunk. Drink what we drink and you can be us someday. What young superstar in the making wouldn’t want a big gulp of that dream?

heroes and drink

Who knew? Still, doesn’t explain the Green Lantern. Still.

It’s just that the truth seems to be nowhere near these slickly made and disingenuous ads. In fact, medical science tell us that kids, teens and actually many athletes have no need for such drinks. At best their unnecessary. At worse, even dangerous.

Now, new research indicates it’s the worse we need worry about. That heavily caffeinated drinks such as Red Bull, Monster and Rock Star drinks may actually be serving as a gateway for kids and teens to engage in dangerous habits such as drug, tobacco and alcohol use.

Let’s first tackle why many sports drinks are about the last thing that young athletes should be or need to be drinking. According to the American Academy of Pediatricians the nutritional goal of the overwhelming percentage of kids, teens and even adults after engaging in sporting activities should be to simply and naturally rehydrate their body. However, most sport drinks on the market today are not simple or natural. Many now have a slew of chemicals and contain between 500mg to 750mg of caffeine. So, by guzzling even one of these Sport or NRG drinks that promise to “re-fuel” the “athlete-warrior,” we are actually ingesting the equivalent of 14 cups of coffee in one gulp, according to Dr. Schneider, MD and Member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition.

NRG drinks

When you don’t have time for 14 cups of coffee.

What can habitually drinking the equivalent of 14 cups of coffee do to kids and teens? Obesity, high blood pressure, hypertension, diabetes and addiction seem to be the tip of the unhealthy iceberg for all our sports superstar wannabes hoping that one day they too, will be dripping in bullets of neon-green colored sweat.

One more strong caution when it comes to doing shooters of energy and sport drinks from the AAP-Don’t consume these as a beverage at mealtime. As bad as they are for you as a hydrating drink after working out they are even worse without any prior activity, like at mealtime. Unfortunately, the trend is many kids and teens are using sport and energy drinks as mealtime substitutes. And marketers are responding to this pernicious and profitable trend by showing new ads touting Red Bull, Monster and Quik Shots as great drinks with your burger and fries.

Not sure why but can you feed me my cheeseburger, my hand seems to be shaking uncontrollably.

kid with gatorade

Nothing like lunchtime with me, my backpack and a couple of cold ones!

While you digest that nugget, here’s another to chew on. A study published this week in the Journal of Addiction (January/February 2014) examined the drinking and activity habits of 22,000 boys and girls between grades 8-12.

The study found that:

Boys are more likely than girls to ingest drinks like Red Bull and Monster

That these type of drinks are enjoying increased popularity in part due to their ability to temporarily mask the effects of alcohol use and abuse

That there is a strong link between habitual use of heavily caffeinated drinks and drug, tobacco and alcohol use

That the most likely age group to use and abuse sport and energy drinks laced with caffeine are 8th graders (ages 14-15)

So, are drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Quik Shot and others the new Gateway drug? Do these drinks lead to drug and other substance abuse in our kids and teens?

Well, the evidence seems to link these drinks to certain high-risk, extreme personality types who seek a certain adrenaline rush that apparently, these drinks provide. At least, temporarily. Until, it seems they get the twitch to seek out ever more extreme and dangerous “highs.”

On the other hand, the evidence seems crystal clear that when the overwhelming majority of us work out or play sports, even when we play to the “max,” we shouldn’t be reaching for a highly caffeinated, electrolyte-infused drink.

Nope. A quick shot or two of natural water. H2O. What the body really needs.

water drink

I won’t even make you dunk a basketball first.

But then you already knew that didn’t you? Maybe now it’s time to alert your kids. Might be best to text them. I hear that gets their attention these days.


For more information, you may want to check out:

Journal of Addiction (January/February) 2014 Online Edition



22 thoughts on “Is Red Bull Energy Drink the New Gateway Drug for Kids?

  1. Mara says:

    People should be worried about exercising and sweating, and not so much about replenishing the few calories they used. I am not surprised the levels of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. keep rising every year! When thirsty, drink water.

  2. Mum 1 says:

    I have been telling my kids for months to lay off so much soda but the sports drinks, honestly, this snuck up on me. I thought they were much healthier for kids. Tomorrow’s school lunch will NOT have a 32 ounce Gatorade which is starting to be a habit for my 9 year old. It could be why he’s so hyper when it’s time to go to be too!

  3. LaMoya N says:

    As a young child, I loved red bull. I was very energetic, but I never once associated drinking red bulls as drinking an alcoholic beverage. I am now eighteen years old, according to the doctor, I am 100% healthy and not obese. Also I have never drank alcohol. I do not think there is anything wrong with kids drinking energy drinks, as long as they exercise and eat right (like I did). These drinks give you energy so with this energy kids could be able to play for longer periods of times. If they play as much as they drink these beverages, then the calories should balance out and not be a contributing factor to obesity.

    • Wade M says:


      I agree with you. There is so many negative articles about energy drinks. Like anything else, as long as moderation is practiced, I feel that they are not as bad as all of the “fast food” that is consumed in the our society.

  4. Mark M says:

    I expected energy drinks to be quite unhealthy but as I read the article, I did not expect sports drinks to be a part of the discussion. Personally, I do not drink energy drinks but i do drink sport drinks, as the only thing I know it does, is replenishing electrolytes. So, I am still in the shifting stage that sport drinks are bad for children. In my opinion, I would say that sport drinks are bad for someone unless it is an occasional use such as a workout. I don’t find anything bad with that but that is what I think about it.

  5. Wade M says:

    While my children are grown now, we made a habit of drinking water with all of our meals versus sweet ice tea that so many people in the South consume. If you want to lose weight, lay off of the dessert and sweet tea and you will be amazed at the pounds that come off. I feel that energy drinks, soft drinks, and alcohol should be consumed in moderation along with a balanced diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. All of these factors should be in the equation relating to avoiding obesity in all ages.

  6. wjwood says:

    I personally have been guilty drinking a lot of Red Bull and vodka but then I am not a young athlete. I’ve seen players that I have coached in the past want to drink these before a game or at half time to refuel, however our trainer would rightfully take away the drinks or restrict them showing them research of the damage they could do. In fact, he wouldn’t even let them drink any kind of carbonated beverage during the day if it was up to him.
    I don’t think these drinks are a lot different than the old Jolt cola which was straight caffeine. Maybe these are not necessarily a gateway drug, but I think in order for a young athlete they should not have total access to the drinks otherwise that could create a problem. Obviously kids don’t drink water the way they once did.
    This might be just another area that sports as we know adapts. Michigan State hoops legend Tom Izzo, said even college players have such a culture of entitlement they expect a trophy for 23rd place and I am sure being allowed to drink whatever they think helps them perform their best, within reason is part of that entitlement. / credentials can be used

  7. Lindsay J says:

    This is an interesting article. I have yet to read anything regarding the link between drug use and energy drink abuse. However, the theory makes sense on premise. I can say that I’ve had an energy drink in my day and currently nor previously have I engaged in any form of drug use.

    I do understand the importance of moderation when it comes to the consumption of these drinks. In the medical field, I have personally seen the effects of long term energy drink use. To include heart palpitations and hypertension. It is important to remain hydrated, as the article suggests; a couple shots of just H20 is beneficial to the body.

  8. K. Denise Shep says:

    I’m not sold on the whole “gateway drug” theory, however, I am fully aware and in agreement with the fact that energy drinks are terrible for you. I used to drink Monster energy drinks almost every day and began suffering from intense caffeine headaches if I didn’t have one. If I did give in and drink the energy drink, my hands would begin to shake uncontrollably. The fact that either way tended to have side effects helped me to realize that my body was accustomed to that level of caffeine intake and that I needed to put a stop to it immediately. I switched to coffee to ward off the headaches and eventually was able to stop drinking that as well. Now, when I work out I stick to water and gatorade to help re-fuel my body. I will admit I have an energy drink on occasion(They still taste good-like most things that are bad for you), but I do believe they can be extremely harmful and should definitely be kept away from younger kids for as long as possible.

    • Denise, another study is now showing that uncontrollable shaking of the hands is more common from these drinks than people realize and apparently, some of these companies are engaged in PR to downplay the effect or deny outright!

  9. Erik C says:

    I could honestly say that yes red bull could be the new ” drug” for kids. My parents never used to let me drink energy drinks when I was younger but I would always sneak them just because they taste good and kind of had an addictive taste. And I would say they were very bad for me at all and I didn’t need them for any reason.

  10. Daphney Y says:

    Even though it is backed up with statistics, I think that there isn’t much to worry about. I started drinking energy drinks in middle school, and I am not in any way addicted to them. I still drink sports drinks. They are a much healthier substitute for soda, and I continue to drink them with every meal. I have two younger brothers, one is fourteen and the other twelve, and they have been drinking Monsters for a while too. Neither of them have trouble with resisting ciggerettes (which is way more a gateway than any sport or energy drink) when they are tempted with them. My mom is addicted to caffinne though. If she doesn’t have at least one soda a day then she gets terrible migranes, but it has never done anything to her worse than that. She never drinks sports drinks or any kind of energy drinks, so in theory, soda is more of a gateway than those are in my opinion. As I stated earlier, I drink Monsters from time to time and I drink sports drinks regularly, and even as a college student I have never even “tried” any type of drug before.

  11. Sarah D says:

    I would have to say that I thoroughly agree that energy drinks are extremely unhealthy and dangerous for kids, teens, and even adult. However, sports drinks such as gatorade (while not as healthy as a glass of classic H2O) are no more unhealthy to drink than your average Coke. The only thing that is misleading is the use of athletic figures as advocates for these drinks, but I don’t believe that such drinks are gateways to drugs or alcohol.

  12. Benjamin N says:

    Even though it has been proven multiple times that energy drinks are terrible for your health, teenagers will continue to drink them. Most kids between the age of 12-17 do not care about their health, nor the potential risk of future complications. Drinking energy drinks is the “cool” thing to do. I can definitely see the connection between energy drinks and alcohol or drug abuse because someone who does not respect their body or is willing to sacrifice their health to enjoy a short rush will be more likely to use drugs or alcohol. I think that energy drink companies should be required to put warning labels on their drinks to help teenagers to understand the risks.

  13. M.B. says:

    At first glance, I shook my head and thought “there is no way energy drinks are a gateway.” But then I realized that I am a living example of it! When I was in 7th grade I went to my first party. There was no alcohol but we had PLENTY of energy drinks. In fact, we took all the popular brands we could buy and mixed them together as if they were punch (totally cool right). After experiencing a euphoric amount of energy, it felt like my heart would beat out of my chest and it kept getting worse. Then the cigarettes came out. I barely knew what one looked like before that night and the next thing I knew, I had consumed three of those nasty things. I was told that it would relax me and my chest would stop hurting. To wrap up this story, YES, energy drinks can most definitely lead to escalating substances. As a college student now, I live off of caffeine in unhealthy dosages because of the high demand from college work. However, I find that I get to feeling lethargic and I get muscle aches because I am pushing my body farther than it is meant to be pushed. That’s the problem with energy drinks, they are created to push the human body farther than it is meant to go. If I would have known the risks and side effects as a 7th grader, I would have never touched that bowl of energy punch. I definitely support legislation making drinkers aware!

    • M.B.-your story is actually fairly common. AMA reports that girls, especially between the ages of 13-17 can react even with more strong and potent reactions than boys. Research suggests it may be linked to hormonal levels. And you are right, they are meant to push farther than what even many athletes need. Especially when used as a punch bowl drink…

  14. Lauren T says:

    I myself have never been into drinking energy drinks. Every now and the, I would drink a Gatorade or Powerade after dance practice, but as far as drinking Monster drinks to give me energy, I have never had one before. The statement about these energy drinks leading to tobacco or drug use sounds a bit extreme, but I can see how that could make sense. Kids are relying on these drinks to give them energy when they are feeling tired or sluggish, then their bodies begin to start relying on the drinks in order to function, just like a body on drugs relies on the substances to remain in a calm state. Too much of anything can become unhealthy so I do agree that consuming too many energy drinks could become unhealthy after a period of time. I think that people who are using the energy drinks should be careful when consuming them because all of the energy that you are gaining from the drinks is unnatural to a body without the consumption of energy drinks. Drinkers should just be cautious how much they are consuming.

  15. Julie Anderson says:

    I agree with your post. The danger of kids consuming these drinks is not the drinks themselves, but the fact that they are trying to find a way to feel good. Any activity that encourages risky behavior can have unintended consequences. I also think we need to put some blame on the parents. How many of them are consuming these drinks to get through another long day? Do we set the example by drinking just plain old water and other healthy choices? Kids will be influenced by their peers but also by their families. If parents don’t buy these drinks and model healthly behaviors, their children stand a better chance of making healthy positive choices in thier lives as well.

  16. K. Reigene M says:

    I don’t see how Gatorade is unhealthy for children. Especially when most consume it right after play time or some strenuous activity. And other just drink it because it taste good. Now energy drinks, yes a child should not be drinking those. They are harmful to their undeveloped bodies. And they already have energy that could start up a car from the get go. Energy Drinks are addictive and can lead to an addictive lifestyle. When they try to quit drinking them all they are going to do is replace one addiction with another thus I can see how its a gateway to drugs and alcohol.

  17. Casey Holcom says:

    I think it’s more due to personality than the use of energy drinks. I don’t believe there’s any correlation with energy drinks and drugs. Whether or not someone drinks any drinks isn’t going to influence future drug use.

    With that being said I think energy drinks are awful and unhealthy.

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