by Laurie Budgar

Energy drinks such as Red Bull and Monster are linked to risk-taking behavior among college-age adults, according to a pair of recent studies by Kathleen Miller, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Research Institute on Addictions at the University at Buffalo.

Miller found that among 795 college students, those who had six or more energy drinks a month were three times more likely to smoke, abuse prescription drugs, or engage in a physical fight than light or nonconsumers. They were also twice as likely to drink alcohol and use marijuana, and were more likely to have unsafe sex, ride in a car without a seatbelt, participate in an extreme sport, or do something dangerous on a dare. Miller cautioned against interpreting the results as causative, however. "It is entirely possible that a common factor, such as a sensation-seeking personality or involvement in risk-oriented peer subcultures, contributes to both." The study was published online in the June issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Her other study, published in the March/April issue of the Journal of American College Health, looked at energy drink consumption and "toxic jock identity." "For many people, being an athlete is an important part of who they are," Miller noted. "Some go a step farther, though, and come to see themselves as 'jocks.' For them, sport is wrapped up in a larger identity that also emphasizes hyper-masculinity and a willingness to take excessive risks." Some of these risks, Miller said, include violence, academic misconduct, problem drinking and even suicide attempts. Her research showed that undergraduates who frequently consumed energy drinks also were more likely to develop toxic jock identity and to take these risks.

According to Miller, a spate of recent deaths linked to energy drinks has caused some countries, such as France and Denmark, to ban the drinks. Canada requires a warning label advising against their use by pregnant women and children.

Energy drinks, which are sometimes sold in naturals stores, and contain high levels of caffeine as well as herbal supplements such as taurine, are now a $3 billion market. Miller found that 46 percent of men and 31 percent of women in the JAH study had had at least one energy drink in the previous month.

Miller's studies were funded by a $471,000 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.