Energy Drinks

As seen in the Oregon Daily Emerald!

For someone with so few vices, I tend to worry an awful lot about addiction. I don't smoke (this includes the wacky tobacky as well as the regular kind), I am a social drinker at best, and the one picture of me the Emerald keeps printing makes it tough for me to indulge in loose women, no matter how hard I may try. Seriously, take a look at that thing - it's like I'm out on work release.

But I digress.

One of my great fears is getting hooked on a substance that is bad for my health. To be honest, this is the reason I avoid so many college vices, for better or for worse. That includes the aforementioned smoking and drinking, as well as another increasingly conspicuous college habit: the energy drink. Here's my challenge to you, reader: Take a look around and count how many people you see with energy drinks the next time you're in public, especially on campus. The number may surprise you. Back in the '80s, people did cocaine when they wanted a pick-me-up; now we've got the same idea in a can without the runny nose afterward.

I've been wary of energy drinks because of the power they claim to have. As a lazy person, I'm easily distracted and prone to abandoning my work in favor of my XBox or a re-run of MacGyver. This very column was written the day before my deadline. Sure, I'd like to have the work ethic to get everything done ahead of time, but with Gears of War 2 now in wide release, I doubt that will ever happen. Thus, the prospect of a magical elixir that gives the drinker energy and motivation is appealing, but my fear was that after one energy drink, I'd get so hooked on the miracles they worked for my study habits that I wouldn't be able to study without them. To be perfectly honest, my diet isn't terribly healthy as is, and the last thing I need is 12-ounces or more of raw caffeine and sugar every day.

It was a few days ago that I finally broke down and had my first energy drink experience. I was studying with a friend in the library and found myself unable to stay awake - probably the result of the

MacGyver episode I'd watched the night before in lieu of sleeping an extra hour. The test for which we were studying was important and I didn't want to miss out on any of the review, so I ran downstairs and bought a 12-ounce Red Bull from the café.

I stayed awake for the rest of the study session and did pretty well on the test the next day. For that, I'd say that can of Red Bull was pretty useful; it gave me the energy to keep my eyes open, and I did my part by continuing to study for another hour and not throwing up.

However, drinking the Red Bull did not turn me into a genius, nor did it make all my homework worries go away. As it turns out, energy drinks are not a miracle cure for school-related stress, nor are they particularly healthy. Red Bull is banned in Denmark and Norway because of health concerns, and in 2000 an 18-year-old Irish basketball player died on the court after drinking four Red Bulls before the game. French scientists discovered that when lab rats were fed concentrated doses of taurine, an amino acid present in every can of Red Bull, the rats displayed a higher incidence of irritability, anxiety and self-mutilation. These facts aside, I can't argue with the fact that if not for Red Bull I would have slept through a very valuable study session.

In my opinion, the key difference between death and not falling asleep is moderation. The boost in alertness that an energy drink gives can be useful when you need to go the extra mile at the end of an all-nighter, but drinking one or four of them will not give you wings (it could, however, give you high blood pressure).

I don't plan on having another Red Bull anytime soon, but if I find myself falling asleep at an inopportune time during finals week, I'll probably buy one to help get me through the day. I won't pound down two or three more, though, much for the same reason that I don't drink a gallon of water whenever I'm thirsty, or eat 15 Chalupas every time I go to Taco Bell.

Consuming a high enough level of anything will almost always have negative results, but energy drinks - much like drugs and alcohol - just might give you those results faster. Think about this before your next pre-exam Red Bull binge, and remember, always energize responsibly.