Caffeine has become a staple in many people's lives, and people are starting to become addicted at even younger ages. Last month, a 16-year-old in South Carolina passed away after consuming a high amount of caffeine that ultimately stopped his heart. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts told reporters that the official cause of death was a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia.”

The teen consumed three caffeinated drinks in less than a two-hour period: a latte, a Mountain Dew and an energy drink. He collapsed in school shortly after and died just an hour later — a tragic end to what the otherwise healthy teen thought was going to be a normal day. 

beer, ice, coffee, milk, water, tea
Alexa Rojek

Of course, this devastating event has sparked some concern when it comes to everyone's dependence on caffeine. It is extremely rare for someone to pass away from too much caffeine, however, this isn't the first time someone has died from drinking an energy drink. While a specific drink wasn't mentioned in the teen’s death, Monster Energy drinks have been linked in the past with five deaths from accounts received by the FDA.

Looking at these cases, it’s easy to be scared and want to cut caffeine completely from your diet. However, caffeine is legal and generally safe to drink, so where is the line — when does caffeine become dangerous? 

How much is too much? 

The body can handle about 400 milligrams of caffeine and be totally fine. In an interview with Forbes, Dr. Robert Glatter, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, gave some insight on what happens when you go over that caffeine limit. "At 500 mg, people start to feel agitated and jittery and may feel nausea. It's when you go above that limit that people get symptomatic," he said.

Dr. Thomas A. Sweeney, associate chair of the department of emergency medicine at Christiana Care Health System in Wilmington, Delaware, also told Forbes how most people overdo it on caffeine because school or work projects are causing stress, which leads to drinking more than normal. Those who consume a lot of caffeine usually have a rapid heart rate, but that's nothing that can't be controlled. And once it is, they're back to normal. 

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Amy Cho

But stress is becoming more and more common today, with school and work taking priority over sleep. If a project needs to be finished, you won't sleep until it's done. You tell yourself that you'll just have an extra cup of coffee in the morning (or an extra energy drink) to get you through the day. There's no questioning it — it's normal. 

So what does this mean for you?

Thinking about your caffeine intake is important. What could be worse though, is combining that caffeine (specifically an energy drink) with alcohol. It's pretty common actually, with most college students mixing vodka and Red Bull for a night out on the town.

Drinkers beware — a 2016 study conducted at Purdue University using mice found that the effects of mixing caffeine and alcohol could be similar to that of using cocaine. And according to the CDC, when alcohol is mixed with an energy drink, the caffeine can mask the depressant effects, meaning you need to drink more alcohol to feel drunk. However, caffeine does not reduce breath alcohol concentrations or reduce the risk of alcohol poisoning.

syrup, maple syrup, beer, liquor, wine, whisky, alcohol
Christin Urso

In other words, alcohol and energy drinks don't get you less drunk or make it okay to drink more. In fact, the CDC also found that people are three times more likely to binge drink when mixing alcohol and energy drinks. Binge drinking isn't healthy and can have some pretty serious side effects, and combining that with the effects of caffeine are even worse. 

You probably won't stop drinking caffeine since it's a staple part of your diet (trust me, it's important to mine, too). And you shouldn’t have to — it’s completely fine when consumed responsibly. Like anything, caffeine should be used in moderation; moderation is key to a healthy and happy heart.