Is Caffeine Safe for Teens and Adolescents?
Caffeine is a natural, central nervous system stimulant. There are many different substances that are considered stimulants, including illegal drugs (e.g. cocaine, methamphetamines, etc.), caffeine, nicotine, and prescription stimulants (e.g. Vyvanse, Ritalin, Adderall, etc.). Stimulant drugs are a class of psychoactive substances that, according to Drug Policy Alliance, “stimulate or activate the central nervous system and are commonly referred to as ‘uppers.’” Generally, stimulants work by altering and increasing the effects of certain neurotransmitters in one’s body. Specifically, caffeine stimulates the brain by blocking the effects of adenosine. An article published in Psychopharmacology asserts that in adults, small doses of caffeine can increase information processing speed, awareness, attention, and reaction time as well as enhance one’s alertness and mood. Although much of the clinical research related to caffeine has been conducted on adults, many children consume caffeine regularly. According to Michigan Health, a study from 2014 found that roughly 73 percent of adolescents consume caffeine, daily.
Every adolescent is unique and each teen has a distinct metabolism and will have varied tolerance levels with regard to caffeine intake. Further, some young people are simply more sensitive to caffeine than others. Caffeine can cause a variety of unwanted side effects. Kids Health provides the following examples of common adverse side effects that can present in adolescents that have consumed caffeine:
- Gastrointestinal disturbances
- Muscle twitching
- Jitters and/ or nervousness
- Elevated blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Difficulty concentrating
The effects of caffeine can begin as soon as a few minutes after it is consumed. Caffeine has a half-life, meaning the length of time the substance will remain in one’s system until the concentration in one’s blood has been reduced by half, of approximately five to six hours.
There is no definitive answer as to whether caffeine is safe for teens and adolescents to ingest. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry advises caution, and suggests “adolescents ages 12 to 18 should cap daily caffeine intake at 100 mg (the equivalent of about one cup of coffee, one to two cups of tea, or two to three cans of soda). For children under 12, there’s no designated safe threshold.” Young people that exceed the recommended amount of caffeine expose themselves to developing a variety of unwanted long-term effects. Perhaps the more pointed question of if there are any known benefits to teens and adolescents drinking caffeine should be considered.
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