Background: Energy drinks are highly caffeinated beverages that are increasingly consumed by young adults. Prior research has established associations between energy drink use and heavier drinking and alcohol-related problems among college students. This study investigated the extent to which energy drink use might pose additional risk for alcohol dependence over and above that from known risk factors.
Methods: Data were collected via personal interview from 1,097 fourth-year college students sampled from 1 large public university as part of an ongoing longitudinal study. Alcohol dependence was assessed according to DSM-IV criteria.
Results: After adjustment for the sampling design, 51.3%wt of students were classified as “low-frequency” energy drink users (1 to 51 days in the past year) and 10.1%wt as “high-frequency” users (≥52 days). Typical caffeine consumption varied widely depending on the brand consumed. Compared to the low-frequency group, high-frequency users drank alcohol more frequently (141.6 vs. 103.1 days) and in higher quantities (6.15 vs. 4.64 drinks/typical drinking day). High-frequency users were at significantly greater risk for alcohol dependence relative to both nonusers (AOR = 2.40, 95% CI = 1.27 to 4.56, p = 0.007) and low-frequency users (AOR = 1.86, 95% CI = 1.10, 3.14, p = 0.020), even after holding constant demographics, typical alcohol consumption, fraternity/sorority involvement, depressive symptoms, parental history of alcohol/drug problems, and childhood conduct problems. Low-frequency energy drink users did not differ from nonusers on their risk for alcohol dependence.
Conclusions: Weekly or daily energy drink consumption is strongly associated with alcohol dependence. Further research is warranted to understand the possible mechanisms underlying this association. College students who frequently consume energy drinks represent an important target population for alcohol prevention.