Caffeine, a stimulant drug, was once predominately the domain of adults, but increasingly children and teenagers are regularly consuming it. Some caffeine products such as energy drinks are targeted specifically for teenage consumption. Some have a caffeine level of 500 mg, equivalent to 5 cups of coffee. Because of the popularity of energy drinks with teenagers — sales for energy drinks increased by 50 percent from 2005 to 2009 — parents and doctors are becoming concerned about what effect caffeine has on teenagers.
Substitute for Healthy Drinks
One concern about teenage caffeine consumption is that when teens choose soda or energy drinks, they are not drinking the healthier alternatives of milk, water or fruit juice. According to Michael F. Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, just substituting one glass of soda with one glass of milk or fruit juice can have a substantial effect on daily nutritional intake. Caffeine is associated with poor sleep, and caffeine in sugary drinks leads to obesity and tooth decay. Early obesity is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, which is an increasing problem for teenagers.
Particularly with sugary caffeine drinks, caffeine dependence can result because sugar produces a “natural reward” that activates brain mechanisms similar to what occurs during cocaine or nicotine use, according to Jennifer Temple of the University of Buffalo’s Exercise and Nutrition Sciences Department. Temple also reports a finding from a questionnaire that teenagers answered: Teenagers who drink four or more caffeinated beverages are more likely to smoke cigarettes.
Many energy drink advertisers claim that their energy drinks enhance athletic performance and improve concentration. Particularly with energy drinks, caffeine overdose can occur because many of these drinks do not label the caffeine amount they contain and because many teens believe that if one energy drink produces a positive effect, more drinks would be even better. This could lead to caffeine intoxication with symptoms of anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, restlessness, stomach upset, racing heart, tremors and sometimes, seizure, stroke and death.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Some teenagers combine energy drinks with alcohol. When used together, teenagers do not feel the effects of alcohol as much as if they drank alcohol without the energy drink. This could increase the potential of alcoholic-induced mistakes such as sexual behavior and driving while under the influence.