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Energy drinks: attention, parents of teens!

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Oct 12, 2008

Visiting my best friend in San Francisco recently, I sat outside her high-end convenience/grocery store in the very affluent suburb of Piedmont grading papers.   The high school kids arrived en masse, at lunch and after school.   An amazing amount of candy and energy drinks walk out of that place–thousands of dollars’ worth daily.   Kids walk up and throw their backpacks in a pile (not allowed in the store), and they walk into the store with their wads of cash and come out with all kinds of junk food.   (These kids have money!)


One day the lead singer of the rock group Greenday was there (he is a resident of Piedmont).   So to impress some of my (new) teenaged friends, who dared me, I got a photo with him.   Unfortunately, the kid who took it with his cell phone emailed it to me, but I haven’t seen it!   Turns out, my own teenagers tell me, Billy Joe Armstrong is the most foul-mouthed rocker alive today.   Clean-cut Christian mom poses with edgy, famous, potty-mouth rockstar.   That’s kind of funny, no?   His kids play on the soccer teams there in Piedmont, and he and his wife were having lunch together and seem so nice.   I have a hard time imagining him screaming from the stage what I’ve been told he does!   (It’s shocking, is all I’m going to say.)


So I came home and read about these energy drinks the kids were guzzling by the gallon.   They’re called Alcopops or “flavored alcoholic beverages” because they have more alcohol than beer!   Beer has 5-6% alcohol, but these have 6-12% alcohol.   Here are some examples of the alcohol content by weight:


Tilt (8%), Rockstar (6.9%), Sparks (6%), Four (6%), Joose (9-10%), Monster, 3Sum, 24, Charge, Torque, and many more.   This is a $3.2 billion annual industry!   No soda bottler can pass up the opportunity to jump on this growing bandwagon.   And guess who drinks the most?   Yep, teens aged 12-17.   They consume 31% of the total amount sold.   These drinks contain alcohol, which is a depressant, but also massive amounts of the stimulants ginseng, guarana, and  caffeine.   (And no, caffeine doesn’t cancel out alcohol.   If you drink alcohol and caffeine, you’re still drunk.)   And of course they are full of sugar or chemical sweeteners, plus lots of other unpronouncable chemical garbage.


Parents, beware.   Are you okay with your 12-year old drinking beer?   Please educate others about this.   (And thanks, GSG reader Camille for sending me source material.)

Posted in: Food Industry, News, Parenting, Standard American Diet

8 thoughts on “Energy drinks: attention, parents of teens!”

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  1. I always knew something was wrong with those drinks! I’ve just always had a bad feeling about them, I just wasn’t sure what was wrong with them. Now I know, ha ha!

    I think the problem most people have though is the wrong perspective. They think “Is it really that bad?” or “What is WRONG with it?” Instead they should be thinking “Is it very good?” or “What is right with it?”!!!

    If they were thinking this way, then they would probably be coming up short with explanations for the junk they are stuffing their bodies with!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Keep in mind that it is only certain varieties of Monster and Rockstar drinks that contain alcohol. For instance, the Rockstar 21 (21 being the key term) is the alcoholic one; all the others are ‘just’ the caffeine/supplements. Same with Monster – one variety is alcoholic; all the others are regular. I certainly am not defending energy drinks – I Just don’t want people to go around thinking my energy-drink-addicted husband is boozing it up all day, hee hee.

    I’ve only had an energy drink (well, 5 energy drinks) once in my life. I had to drive from Houston to Utah. I typically would fall asleep on my 20-minute commute each day, so I was terrified to try to drive 24 hours. I drank several of the fruit juice Monster energy drinks. It was the first time I’d had a caffeinated or energy drink (at least since I was about 10 years old, when I would occasionally have a cup of Pepsi with dinner). We ended up having to stop and let me sleep for about half an hour at a park because I felt sick. I couldn’t tell if the drinks really made a difference in my tiredness level, but I made it without falling asleep!

  3. Wait, so how can they sell them to people under 21 if they have that much alcohol? I’m totally confused…

  4. I did a little digging, it looks like they make two varieties, an alcoholic “malt beverage” and a non-alcoholic version that are similarly packaged. Often store clerks don’t know the difference (or don’t care to notice the difference), but it is illegal to sell the version with alcohol to minors.

  5. http:// says:

    Heather, good question–I don’t know! Here in Utah, our Attorney General is behind trying to make these drinks illegal.

    Have I ever told you guys my story about my first pregnancy? I was never a soft drink user, but when I was 6 months pregnant with my first child (having my very own SuperSize me experiment and gaining 65 lbs.), I suddenly got the most overpowering craving for a Diet Coke. Somehow I believed back then, in my 20’s, that you were supposed to indulge every craving (or this was the rationale I used to abuse my body and my poor little boy’s).

    So I drove to a 7-11 and got a Big Gulp, drank the whole thing. For three hours, I felt the baby inside me shaking and jerking. It was horrible! I felt so terrible for him.

    I never did it again.


  6. http:// says:

    I wrote for my college paper a couple of years ago and was assigned to write an article about this very issue. Before I wrote the article, I went to a few local grocery stores, picked out some of the “malt beverages,” and showed them to teenagers, college students, and parents. I let each person examine the beverage and then asked them if they would drink it. Virtually everyone said that they wouldn’t have a problem drinking it, except for a handful of people that told me they didn’t drink energy drinks period (good for them!). Even after examining the labels, not one of them realized it was alcoholic until I pointed it out to them! Most then said they wouldn’t drink it. You can’t tell that some of these drinks are alcoholic unless you know what to look for in the labeling (although, to be fair, some are more obviously labeled than others).

    But good news for Utahns… a new state law requires these malt flavored beverages now to be sold only in state liquor stores (until they can meet better labeling requirements). That law went Oct. 1, I think. And some even better news… most of the companies that make these drinks decided to pull them from the Utah market all together, rather than go through the hassle of relabeling them!



    P.S. I tried to purchase one of these alcoholic drinks at a local grocery store after I did my experiment. I was only 19 at the time… and guess what… they let me buy it!! The cashier didn’t realize it was alcoholic!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is crazy–so many teens drink these around UT–or are there only the nn alchoholic ones in UT? either way–these are just completely SICK to me-ick!

  8. Anonymous says:


    That answers my question — I was wondering how teenagers are able to get these drinks so easily. I mean, underage kids have always been able to get alcohol, but the news articles make it sound like it’s *really* easy to get these.

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