Marsilio said he started drinking Monster when he was in high school so he could stay up late playing video games. Then he enrolled at JMU, a public university about two hours southwest of Washington in the Shenandoah Valley. At first, Marsilio would buy cases of energy drinks. Now, he buys them one at a time from a campus dining facility, which has a contract with Coca-Cola and sells the company’s energy drink brand, NOS.
“I like it,” Marsilio said, sipping a citrus-flavored NOS in JMU’s Carrier Library at 10 p.m. last week. “It’s really the taste for me.”
There are dangers for some: Experts say that chugging energy drinks, especially while working out, can reveal an unknown heart condition in an otherwise healthy young person. Low-calorie, sugar-free energy drinks are sometimes used by students with serious eating disorders. And then there’s the sometimes deadly combination of energy drinks and alcohol.
In November 2010, the FDA deemed it unsafe to sell pre-mixed caffeinated alcoholic drinks, such as Four Loko, which has since removed caffeine from its products. Although drinking usually comes with the depressive effects of alcohol, energy drinks and caffeine can keep drinkers awake and alert, ready to drink more. Many bars stock energy drinks as mixers.
After the ban was imposed, a group of health researchers wrote to the FDA, telling officials that college students can still mix their own alcoholic energy drinks and urging further action.
“Energy drink use is highly prevalent,” they wrote. “A trip to any college campus would reveal that energy drinks have become enmeshed in the subculture of partying on US college campuses.”
Energy drinks were originally marketed primarily to college students, especially athletes. Red Bull and Monster sponsor extreme sports teams and hire outgoing students to promote their products on campuses and in clubs.
McMillan, the JMU junior who found the Red Bull trove in the library, said finals week has become an extreme sport for him. This year he tried “this nocturnal thing” — sleeping during the day and studying through the night when distractions were few and Facebook was quiet. A string of Monsters and Red Bulls helped him do it.
“If I were to just stay at home and away from the library, I would probably get way more done,” he said. “There is an ideal or an expectation that just because it’s finals week, you go crazy. It’s so hard not to get into it. It’s almost fun. . . . You have to go to extreme measures to get stuff done.”