The Benefits and Risks of Energy Drinks in Young Adults and Military Service Members

Mil Med. 2017 Jul;182(7):e1726-e1733. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-16-00339.


Introduction: Energy drinks (EDs) have become an integral part of the young adult, athletic, and military culture. Many athletes are convinced that EDs enhance performance, and service members as well as college students frequently use EDs as stimulants to counter sleep deprivation, or to improve academic performance. However, concerns have been raised by some military leaders about potential adverse effects of EDs.

Materials and methods: A needs assessment survey of a convenience sample of military health care providers was conducted and identified EDs as a top knowledge need for those providers working in the area of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The instrument demonstrated high interitem consistency (Cronbach's α > .80). To further explore the state of knowledge on EDs, and to prompt further discussion of ED use and how it may related to military treatment protocols and supporting educational products, we conducted a literature review of English language publications listed in the National Library of Medicine using the search term "energy drinks" and published during the last 5 years to determine what is known about EDs in terms of their potential benefits and health risks.

Results: The active ingredients in most EDs are caffeine, and to a lesser extent taurine and sugars. Several reports suggest that the combination of these ingredients is more active than the caffeine alone. Despite the positive attributes of EDs, there are increasing reports of serious and potentially life-threatening side effects. Most recently there also has been a dramatic increase in the use of ED/alcohol combination drinks, and there are preliminary studies that suggest important adverse effects with this combination. A 2013 National Institutes of Health expert workshop concluded that more clinical studies are needed to clearly define the health risks associated with ED use.

Conclusion: The needs assessment points to a desire for more ED knowledge of health providers working with TBI patients. A few key themes emerged from the exploratory literature review that can be taken into consideration when educating health providers and delivering knowledge-based resources. Adverse effects of EDs are most closely associated with the dose of caffeine consumed. In general, the combination of ED with alcohol should be avoided because the ED can mask the level of intoxication, and the combination may be associated with increased risk-taking behavior. Overall, the risks and benefits of EDs remain controversial and good-quality long-term clinical trials are needed to inform policymaking, regulation, and the development of prevention and treatment resources.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletic Performance
  • Blood Pressure
  • Caffeine / adverse effects
  • Caffeine / therapeutic use
  • Energy Drinks / adverse effects*
  • Energy Drinks / standards*
  • Female
  • Glucose / adverse effects
  • Glucose / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Risk-Taking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Caffeine
  • Glucose