It all started with three or four cans of Mountain Dew a day. That was in high school. Then, in college, it was 5-Hour Energy. Two shots a day, to be exact. Later, it was a 20-ounce can of Monster each morning. At one point, Aaron Templin, now 36, had to stop – at least temporarily.
“I don’t even know how to describe it. It was too much energy – way too much energy,” says the customer service worker in Gaithersburg, Maryland, who now mostly drinks coffee and water. “It was like an out-of-body experience. It was pretty crazy.”
Sales of energy drinks and shots such as Red Bull, Monster and 5-Hour Energy are higher than ever – growing 60 percent between 2008 and 2012 to a market worth more than $12.5 billion, according to a report from the market research company Packaged Facts. The report predicted sales will eclipse $21 billion by 2017.
It's easy to see why: From working moms to doctors on the night shift, Americans' supply of good old-fashioned energy seems to be wearing thin. For Templin, the artificial type helped him do it all in college. "I was staying up late and partying with my friends and trying to keep up with everything I had going on, from sports to my friends and studying,” he says. On a "good night," he’d sleep only three hours. Later, when Templin was working on construction projects in the mornings and as a volunteer firefighter overnight, he and colleagues turned to Monster to stay alert.
For Zack Higbee, a patent lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, the lure of energy drinks was their cool factor. He drank up to one can of Red Bull each day during law school after getting hooked on the company’s videos of extreme sports. “I thought it was so freaking cool that I just started carrying cans around and drinking them,” he says.
But concerns about the drinks – which have been linked to heart and neurological problems, as well as poor mental health and substance use among teens – are rampant, too. Between 2007 and 2011,...