Widgets Magazine
MIGHTY CULTURE

New study shows energy drinks can actually hurt returning troops

Rip-Its are a comforting old friend to American Post-9/11 veterans. Most American probably don't even know they exist, unless you happen to be a regular at your local Dollar General store. In war zones, Rip-Its are widely available for sale and, in some cases, are free. Move over, coffee, this is the unofficial beverage of the Global War on Terror.

The problem with this is overindulgence may actually be hurting troops as they transition back home.


Rip-It, the military's favorite brand of energy drink (when deployed), is sold to the military by National Beverage Corp., the same team of drink magicians who brought us Faygo and La Croix. It's sold in much smaller cans than the ones available in the U.S., but anyone naive enough to believe that keeps U.S. troops from drinking too much is sadly mistaken.

While American troops are big fans of Rip-Its and other energy drinks, a recent study published in the Military Medicine journal found an association between continued, excessive consumption of energy drinks and mental health issues in returning troops.

No one gets enough sleep in a war zone as it is. And when soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are awake, they need to stay vigilant about their work, any external threats, and, in some places, internal threats as well. This is one reason coffee has been a mainstay of the U.S. military for so long.

The rise in popularity of energy drinks like Rip-It happened to coincide with a huge number of young people, the primary consumers of energy drinks, heading off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The love affair's timing is a perfect storm. It became a little slice of home and comfort while pulling double duty keeping people awake when they needed to be.

Even people who never drank an energy drink before were likely to try at least one while deployed.

Eventually, these same troops returned home from their combat deployments. The study found 75 percent of soldiers were still drinking them after coming home. Of those,16 percent were drinking two or more per day, an amount the study defined as "excessive."

Those found to be drinking more were more likely to exhibit signs of mental distress or other mental issues, especially aggressive behaviors, sleeplessness, alcohol misuse, and excessive fatigue after being home for seven months after their combat deployment. Not only that, those drinking to excess "are associated with being less responsive to evidence-based treatments for PTSD," the authors of the study wrote.

Troops who consumed fewer than two drinks reported a lower rate of these symptoms.

The study didn't address Rip-It specifically, though it did ask what size study participants were prone to using. The use of drinks by this Army sample was five times higher than in a previous study of airmen and civilians in the general population.

Military leaders aren't likely to call for an end to the widespread use of energy drinks, but many have already called on their troops to cut down on consumption.