Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York state Attorney General, recently subpoenaed three large manufacturers of energy drinks to testify as part of an investigation about the caffeine content of the drinks and the associated health risks that they may pose. While the investigation and information it will provide is important, the country’s premier Christian addiction referral service, Lighthouse Network, suggests that perhaps the focus is misplaced.
Lighthouse Network suggests that easy access and availability of caffeine-laden drinks and supplements has dramatically elevated caffeine use in adults as well as teens and accelerates a dangerous trend that moves people toward quick fixes for common issues like sleeplessness, a lack of energy, or a negative mood state, rather than seeking more substantial and less dangerous help. A significant danger is the potential to start a trend toward more dangerous substance use: when caffeine users find themselves agitated, excited, or unable to sleep, they often see a doctor, who prescribes a tranquilizing or sedating medication to ‘treat’ these symptoms. This can, in turn, can cause a spiral effect where the caffeine user finds himself or herself addicted to prescription sleep aids, tranquilizers, or pain killers, or else mired in the depths of anger, agitation, or depression.
While New York’s move to investigate the contents and potential health risks is a step in the right direction, for many the damage will be done by the time changes are made. Energy drinks that provide high, non-labeled, and concentrated doses of caffeine have acute, intermediate, and chronic dangers. In Maryland, a 14-year old girl lost her life due to cardiac arrhythmia related to caffeine toxicity after ingesting two 24-ounce energy drinks in a 24-hour period.
Comments From Lighthouse Network Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Karl Benzio
“Caffeine is at every street corner, every office, most teens’ backpacks, in many churches, as well as in several ‘natural’ supplements. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant that can have a significant impact on our heart and cardio-vascular system, but more importantly, caffeine easily enters the brain, constricts the blood vessels and interferes with the brain’s supply of oxygen and nutrients.” said Karl Benzio, M.D., the Founder and Executive Director of Lighthouse Network. “With our brain compromised in a number of areas, including emotions, energy, agitation, and cognitive skills, many people will seek their family doctor’s assistance for such problems, never realizing that caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal, is to blame for their symptoms in the first place. We suggest turning to safer, natural alternatives to combat energy or mood issues instead of using caffeine, for example, get more sleep and exercise or improve nutritional habits. This way, a dangerous cycle of drug use does not have the opportunity to form.”
“We want both drinkers of these substances as well as loved ones to understand how dangerous and serious caffeine use is and be aware of both the physical and psychological symptoms of use and withdrawal. People are tricked into using more caffeine to ‘treat’ their symptoms of low energy, increased irritability, low frustration tolerance, cognitive dulling, distractibility, and impaired motivation, and symptoms worsen as a result. For some, turning to another quick fix, but more potent substance to ‘treat’ their symptoms is the next step on the dangerous slippery slope in the addiction downward spiral.” said Benzio. “As a clinician, I am always preaching, ‘Protect your brain.’ God gifted us with a complex and wonderful mind and we need to take care of it. The addiction treatment programs we develop show people how to renew their mind by applying Biblically-based, Christ-centered principles to bring joy and peace in today’s stressors so they don’t reach for the quick fix and ephemeral high that caffeine or other stronger drugs provide.”