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Caffeine and Energy Drinks

Caffeine is a stimulant drug that is in many foods and drinks. It is found naturally in many plants such as coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa nuts, and it can also be produced artificially. Most energy drinks are jam-packed with sugar and caffeine, and typically contain varying ingredients to boost energy such as taurine, and guarana.

Taurine is an amino acid that your body naturally produces, but it can also be produced in a laboratory. It helps regulate heartbeat, muscle contractions, and energy levels. Guarana is a seed that comes from plants native to South America that enhances energy levels.

Health Canada suggests that one’s daily caffeine intake should be no more than 2.5 mg/kg of their whole body weight for those 13 years of age and older (Health Canada - Caffeine). For example: if you weigh 55kg (about 120 pounds), that means you can have about 137mg of caffeine a day.  Now, consider that:

  • a 355 ml can of pop has between 36-46 mg of caffeine;
  • a 1-oz portion of a dark chocolate candy bar would be closer to 19 mg; and
  • some energy drinks have 80mg of caffeine (or more!) in one small can, and that does not include the caffeine found in other ingredients like taurine and guarana.

How It Works

Once caffeine enters your system, it takes effect in about 15 minutes. To get rid of just half of the caffeine you have consumed, it can take up to six hours. Caffeine stimulates the brain in similar ways as cocaine and heroin. While caffeine is much milder than these drugs, it is still addictive.

Side Effects

Caffeine increases alertness, which is why people crave coffee when they are tired. However, caffeine can also cause irritability, insomnia, headaches and nervousness (Health Canada – Caffeine). When mixed with other ingredients such as taurine and guanine, side effects of energy drinks can include:

  • nausea and vomiting;
  • heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing) or an irregular heartbeat;
  • gastrointestinal upset;
  • anxiety and nervousness;
  • shaking hands;
  • feelings of being hyper-energized;
  • irritability; and/or
  • loss of sleep.

High doses of caffeine can cause seizures, and in some cases, death.

Mixing with Alcohol

Many alcoholic drinks call for the mixing of alcohol and energy drinks.  Alcohol, a depressant, slows down your body and brain, while caffeine has the opposite effect; it increases alertness and speeds up functions. If you combine the two, energy drinks can mask the effects of alcohol. This can lead you to drink way too much without realizing it, and have other effects like nausea, vomiting, alcohol poisoning and dehydration.

Tolerance and Dependence

One can become physically dependent and/or addicted to caffeine. A way to tell if someone is addicted to caffeine is to take away their cup of coffee, their Coke or whatever else they drink to get their caffeine and see if there are any withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from a headache or muscle pain to feeling tired and having no energy (Health Canada – Caffeine). Withdrawal symptoms can also temporarily affect your personality. Some people become irritable or even angry if they are forced to go without caffeine, or find basic tasks more difficult like focusing on reading a book, or memorizing things.

What You Can Do


Before consuming caffeine or energy drinks, youth should talk to a parent or guardian. If you think you are, or know someone who is, addicted to caffeine or if you are looking for more information on the effects of caffeine and other ingredients found in energy drinks, talk to a trusted adult, a family doctor or a school guidance counsellor. To talk to someone in a confidential setting, youth may call the Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868), a completely free resource for youth.


If you think a youth is addicted to caffeine or energy drinks, try talking to them. If they prefer not to talk, refer them to their family doctor, school guidance counselor or the Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868).