The cans are lined up at grocery and convenience stores, with names such as Monster, Jolt and Amp screaming from the packaging.
Energy drinks are an exploding multibillion-dollar industry, and young people are the demographic most likely to lap them up. But health officials are concerned that the teens seeking a quick boost may be harming their bodies.
Many parents don't know that the seemingly benign energy drinks are filled not only with caffeine, but also with guarana, tuarine and ginseng, said Mary Zupke, registered dietitian at Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Illinois, who spoke at a recent drug and alcohol forum sponsored by the Geneva Coalition for Youth.
Some students are looking for a way to summon energy to study for a test or start an early morning. Others like a way to "look rebellious" without doing anything illegal, Zupke said.
"These things do not help memory," Zupke said. "Two hundred to 300 mg of caffeine a day is OK for adults, but safe limits [for young people] are not known."
A 12-ounce "tall" Starbucks coffee has 260 milligrams of caffeine, while Jolt's 23-ounce drink has 280 milligrams and Rage has 200 milligrams in a 16-ounce can. Most of the popular energy drinks also have additives such as guarana, a berry that contains a high concentration of caffeine, and taurine, a non-essential amino acid that may help regulate metabolism. Many drinks are chock-full of sugar.
Nationally, one in three teens regularly consumes energy drinks, according to industry estimates.
Ryan Wheatley, 14, a freshman at Geneva High, said he likes energy drinks, especially Full Throttle, because of the taste and because they "look cooler than pop."
Still, soda pop is still the most popular drink among his friends, he said, if only because energy drinks cost between $2 and $3, making them too expensive to drink multiple times a day.
"The marketing is definitely aimed at us," he said. "They make the cans bigger and shaped like beer."
Michelle Frangella, a detective with the Geneva Police Department, said the drinks have their own MySpace and Facebook pages, and ads show celebrities, musicians and skateboarders enjoying the drinks.
It doesn't end with canned drinks. Frangella said that with just a little searching online, she was able to locate mints, lip balm, soap, breath spray, candy bars, "shots" and concentrated powder that also claim to give the users the kick they are looking for.
Some products, such as a powder concentrate called Blow, even suggest drug use, with its packaging that includes a credit card, straw and mirror.
Frangella is also concerned with how similar alcoholic energy drinks and non-alcoholic energy drinks look to the average buyer. Teens try to buy the alcoholic drinks from an unaware clerk, or sneak them by unsuspecting parents, she said.
Combining the energy drinks with alcohol is another dangerous habit, she said. Teens are looking for a way to combat the symptoms of drunkenness.
Zupke said she has heard from students who complain of stomachaches and headaches after downing multiple energy drinks regularly. School officials throughout the country have banned the drinks from school grounds after reports of students complaining of accelerated heart rates and stomach problems.
Dizziness, migraines, insomnia and rapid heartbeat are all warning signs that the energy drinks are affecting the body, Zupke said.
Margaret Marren, a Geneva mother of four, was one of about 40 who attended the forum. She said though her kids aren't drinking energy drinks now, she plans to talk to them about the dangers and head off any future use.
Students should know what they are consuming, she said.
"It's the excess that's the problem," she said.
Frangella said parents should help their teens find other ways to cope with busy schedules.
"It's time to acknowledge our children's hectic life and offer ways to energize them without caffeine," she said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun