Energy drink consumption could be a gateway to drug use, a new study suggests.

Energy drinks are marketed as products that increase alertness and improve physical and mental performance. The target market for this product is generally aimed at young people, and the marketing has been effective. Next to multivitamins, energy drinks are the most popular dietary supplement consumed by American teens and young adults. Specifically, males between the ages of 18 and 34 years of age consume the most energy drinks.

A new study at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, has now uncovered strong links between the regular consumption of energy drinks among young adults and their risk of doing cocaine or prescription stimulants for non-medical uses.

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The study recruited 1,099 participants when they were 18-year-old college students.

More than half of the participants fell into the group with a “persistent trajectory” – meaning they continued to consume energy drinks over time. Members of this group were “significantly” more likely to use stimulant drugs.

“This study gives evidence of a specific contribution of energy drink consumption to later substance use,” said Professor Amelia Arria, lead author on the study. “The results suggest that energy drink users might be at heightened risk for other substance use, particularly stimulants.”

Occasional consumption of energy drinks from those researched also showed an increased risk of stimulant drug use.

The individuals who did not consume energy drinks as they got older were less likely to develop issues with drug abuse.

The group recognizes that the biological factors behind both regular energy drink consumption and an inclination for substance abuse stay indistinct for now. Researchers agree that further investigation is required.

This further research is crucial as 1/3 of individuals aged between 12 – 17 consume energy drinks on a frequent basis.