Science doesn’t give answers. Instead, it’s a tool that humans have created to make meaningful conclusions from data. So, if someone tells you that science says energy drinks will turn you into a cocaine user, well, science won’t ever do that.
A new study practically everyone has been reporting on claims that energy drinks can in fact be a gateway drug to cocaine. You, being a computer user, probably drink energy drinks—I do, for sure. You probably also would prefer not to be a coke addict, because having addictions can be expensive, dangerous, and upsetting to your loved ones. We are here to tell you that science has not said that energy drinks will lead to a coke habit. Don’t toss your Red Bull just yet.
You’re probably wondering how I can be so sure. I can’t be so sure—and neither can the scientists. They actually say it in the paper, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependance: “The demonstration of a prospective relationship supports but does not prove the existence of a causal relationship between [energy drink] consumption and substance use. Efforts to replicate these findings in large longitudinal cohort studies of adolescents are warranted.”
That’s because the paper surveys a little more than a thousand college students and had them fill out questionnaires about their substance use. The researchers found that the students with a sustained energy drink drinking habit were more likely to have tried cocaine than those who lowered their energy drink consumption over a few years. But the research simultaneously tested a bunch of other hypotheses in the questionnaire, like the likelihood that energy drink users also used marijuana, alcohol and tobacco, as well as how other factors played in, like age, gender race, and parents’ education.
So, the researchers aren’t targeting one hypothesis, but rather are testing several with the hopes of finding an initial association they can later test with more rigorous methods. They don’t want to see you stop drinking energy drinks, they just want to learn more in case, in the future, a real causal association becomes more clear. But that’s what they’ve got right now, a statistically interesting association. And a lot of things can be associated.
Don’t do drugs or whatever, don’t freak out if you do, and don’t worry about energy drinks just yet. Science isn’t ready for you to freak out yet.