By Dr. Anthony Policastro

Energy drinks have become common. There have been medical studies to look at their effects in adolescents. A recent study looked at 782 of these studies. They weeded them down to the 57 most relevant ones.

Most people know that these drinks contain caffeine and sugar. Sometimes the amount is not always that clear. A 16-ounce bottle of cola flavored soda has 34 mg of caffeine. Eight ounces of tea has 50 mg of caffeine. Eight ounces of coffee has 90 mg of caffeine.

The energy drinks with the lowest amount of caffeine have 50 mg per serving. However, some of them can contain as much as 505 mg per serving. Reading labels for caffeine content is clearly important.

The high sugar content contributes to weight gain, increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes, and it erodes teeth.

The unfortunate thing is that even young children consume these drinks. Studies have shown that between 12 percent and 35 percent of children drink energy drinks at least once a week. Actually, Latvia and Lithuania have banned sales to individuals under age 18. Sweden only sells them in pharmacies because of their drug content.

We know that children and adolescents who use these drinks have a number of medical problems. Risk factors for this consumption are multiple.

Children from families with low parental education use them more. Children with single parents use them more. Children whose parents diet a lot use them more. Children who get more weekly spending money use them more. Children whose parents tend to be hypercritical use them more. As expected, children whose peers use them tend to also use them more.

It appears that energy drink use is more likely just one symptom of the children who grow up in these situations. Other findings are that they have higher levels of smoking, binge drinking and substance abuse. They tend to be more likely to engage in delinquent behavior, school truancy, violence, unprotected sex and sensation seeking.

Along the same lines these children have a higher risk of suicide. They have more depressive and panic symptoms. Again, these are likely not caused by the energy drinks themselves but by the underlying family factors.

The high sugar levels satisfy cravings, so they tend to skip meals. To make up for that, they snack on things like energy dense fast foods.

From a physical standpoint, they can develop caffeine dependence just like heavy coffee drinkers. They can develop insomnia. They can get headaches. They can have the lower number on their blood pressure reading increase.

Of interest is that some adolescents use them to enhance sports performance. There is no medical evidence to support this supposition.

Given the high levels of use among children and adolescents this is something that parents need to know about. Often use of energy drinks is simply a symptom of other underlying issues.Therefore, heavy users are likely to have other psychiatric issues. It should be a red flag for the parents in these situations. Energy drink usage is a lot more complex than most people realize.