Anti-Energy Drinks: Are They a Gateway to Self Medication?

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They’ve been called “Xanax in a can” and “downer drinks.” Anti-energy drinks are one of the latest crazes, and they’re not just for teens. These drinks – which are designed to relax the mind and body using a cocktail of compounds – are marketed to college students, soccer moms and Wall Street executives. They are designed to promote relaxation after a long day, and have been considered safe alternatives to drugs and alcohol by manufacturers.

But, how safe are these anti-energy drinks really, and are they just another way for people at risk for addiction and self medication to induce cognitive impairment?

What are Anti-Energy Drinks?

First, let’s discuss what anti-energy drinks are. You probably remember the energy drink craze, especially with the media hype surrounding drinks like Four Loko and Red Bull, which contain or are mixed with alcohol, respectively. These drinks contain electrolytes and caffeine and have been known to give people the energy they’re looking for to get through their days – or at least make them a bit more interesting.

Anti-energy drinks provide the opposite effect and are designed to relax a person with the use of compounds like melatonin, kava, GABA and L-Theanine. They are smartly sold at places like convenience stores or college campuses, places where cigarettes, alcohol and synthetic drugs are likely to be sold as well.

At this time, anti-energy drinks are legal, and they’re not hard to find, unless convenience stores are sold out, which happens quite often. Manufacturers of anti-energy drinks continue to stand by their products, saying that they are a better alternative to using drugs and alcohol. Instead of reaching for a drink after a long day, a stressed out banker or tired stay-at-home mom can relax with an anti-energy drink instead.

And, the claims are strong. Downer drinks are supposed to have the person relaxed after the first sip and up to five hours later.

Should We Be Worried?

To us, anti-energy drinks have trouble written all over them. While there are people who will drink these concoctions responsibly, we need to think about the types of people who will be most drawn to these drinks. Will it be a confident nutritionist who uses tai chi to wind down, or an over-stressed college student who is likely to self medicate?

Unfortunately, anti-energy drinks are just another concoction that teens and young adults can get their hands on, impairing their cognitive abilities and mixing them with other drugs and alcohol.

Furthermore, health officials are concerned that anti-energy drinks are too closely related to “purple drank” and “sip and syrup,” and this may make teens more likely to try these illegal substances if they run into them in the future. For young minds, it’s easy to confuse the difference between a drink that is marketed to be safe and legal, and a drink that is made from legal ingredients like cough medicine and candy.

What About Self Medication?

Another concern for people of all ages is the practice of self medication. If anti-energy drinks are marketed to people who are stressed out (which is just about every one of us), then it’s teaching us that we need substances to relax our minds and bodies. This is not a healthy practice, and it can lead to dependencies.

For example, a soccer mom who already indulges in alcohol can look at anti-energy drinks as a safe, more socially acceptable alternative. But, having to unwind with something each night could create a dependency, thus starting the trend of nightly drinking and a reliance on alcohol.

Not everyone who drinks anti-energy drinks are at risk for addiction or will develop addictive behavior. Not everyone will be more likely to experiment with other drugs or increase their alcohol use. There will be people out there who use these drinks from time to time to take the edge off. But in a general sense, anti-energy drinks have a dangerous concept behind them: self medication is okay. Unfortunately, self medication is what can lead to drug or alcohol use.

If you know that a loved one has been enjoying anti-energy drinks and you worry about their past addiction habits, there is a cause for concern. While these drinks are legal, we know little about them because they are just emerging on the market. Instead, it’s better to focus on healthy coping mechanisms that do not involve the use of drugs or compounds, such as journaling, meditation or yoga. By practicing these skills at the end of the day, you’re truly working wonders for the body without putting anything toxic into it.