When talking about his energy drink consumption, Brandyn Lee, of Smithville, uses the past tense - addicted.

But while he's cut back, the highly-caffeinated drinks still have a hold on him.

Lee, 17, drank his first energy drink five years ago as a sixth grader. At his worst, he drank as many as two or three energy drinks every day when he worked a job in construction. He still finishes off 10 cans in a week.

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"It tastes good. It keeps me up at work," said Lee, who admits he built up a tolerance to energy drinks over the years.

A report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network, a U.S. public health surveillance system that monitors possible drug-related deaths and visits to hospital emergency rooms, noted there were 20,783 visits related to energy drinks in 2011 alone. If energy drinks are labeled as dietary food supplements, as some are, the FDA doesn't restrict the caffeine. Monster's Energy contains 240 milligrams of caffeine in 24 ounces, Coca-Cola's NOS energy has 260 milligrams in 16 ounces, and Rockstar energy contains either 160 or 240 milligrams - depending on the specific product - in 16 ounces.

By comparison, Coca-Cola Classic has 30 to 35 milligrams of caffeine per 12 ounces. A 16-ounce McDonald's brewed coffee has 100 milligrams, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Lee learned the consequences of drinking too many energy drinks one day over the summer. He was working as a lifeguard at an Atlantic City pool and had slept little the night before. To keep himself awake, Lee drank two NOS energy drinks in about 30 minutes. After 20 minutes, Lee started feeling nauseous. He left his lifeguard station and threw up in the bathroom. When Lee returned to his lifeguard chair, he feel asleep with his sunglassses on.

Still, that wasn't enough to put him off the energy drinks.

"I hate coffee," Lee said. "I usually drink Red Bull."

Luanne Anton, a health educator at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona, sees many students at the school over do it with the energy drinks.

Students don't just use the drinks to stay alert in boring classes. For students who drink alcohol, the energy drinks are mixers with a kick.

"They will mix Red Bull and vodka, so they will drink and get a buzz, but remain alert," said Anton.

Anton will see students who are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and heart palpitations. When Anton probes into what led to the problems, sometimes, the consumption of too many energy drinks in a short period of time is the culprit, she said.

The Stockton campus sells energy drinks in vending machines. About a year ago, Anton spoke to the student senate in an unsuccessful attempt to have the energy drinks removed. She said she was told the students wanted them to stay.

James Connelly, 24, of Galloway Township, is a Paralympic Winter Games medal-winning athlete. Connelly had to live in Buffalo, N.Y. for training, but tried to return home on weekends. He started consuming Rockstar, Monster, Red Bull and Amp energy drinks more regularly in 2009 to help stay awake during the long night drives.

Now, Connelly, who has spina bifida, consumes energy drinks most often when he is trying to finish a great deal of school work at Stockton. He is a junior majoring in criminal justice with a concentration in forensic psychology.

"It's easier than making a cup of coffee sometimes," said Connelly, who will consume two or three energy drinks weekly. "I never drank an excessive amount... I don't like that kind of stress on my heart, which is the only reason why I haven't drunk an excessive amount."

When Connelly rises early in the morning for hunting, sometimes, he needs a cold drink to wake him up. Also, energy drinks are easier to keep cold on a long drive, he said.

Brad Clacherty, 27, of Atlantic City, was a 13-year-old high school sophomore when he started drinking energy drinks. His parents knew about it, didn't support it and gave him a hard time about it. As an adult, Clacherty drinks one can every day to deal with his long hours working as the head chef at Ri Ra Irish Pub in The Quarter at Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.

"I've never been a coffee drinker. I will sip it all day long," Clacherty said. "It's a great alternative to coffee. I feel it does help."

On a Saturday or Sunday, Clacherty starts his day at 7 a.m. and will work until 9 or 10 p.m.

"I grab an energy drink when the alarm goes off," Clacherty said.

Lorraine Thayer, NPC, of AtlantiCare Physician Group Primary Care, Cape May Court House, said moderation is the key in anything. Caffeine is a stimulant, consuming too much can make a person short tempered, nervous or agitated, Thayer said.

Along with caffeine, energy drinks are loaded with sugar, and Thayer believes we should not be adding anything to our children's' diets that will not help them grow in their body and brain.

"One of the questions that I would have from a medical perspective is why does my customer, my patient, my consumer feel the need for that energy drink. Are they sleeping properly? Are they eating properly? Are they trying to manage a stressful situation?," Thayer asked. "I'm concerned about why they are consuming the drink as much as the fact that they are consuming the drink."

Some information in this story came from The Dallas Morning News

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