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Is Caffeine Bad for Teens?

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A new study has investigated the teen response to caffeine and how they can become addicted to coffee. The study looks at how that response relates to or predicts responses to stimulants like cocaine and crystal meth and it shows a clear physiological connection. The researchers began by proposing a series of questions: Is coffee a drug? Could coffee be a gateway drug for teens? In other words, could coffee open the door to teens wanting to experiment with substance use? Could it lead to teens using harder drugs, particularly stimulants?

According to their results, the answer to all those questions is yes. Many teens who are addicted to coffee end up showing addictive behavior with other substances.

Can Coffee be a Gateway Drug for Teens?

Per the Cambridge University Dictionary, the definition of a gateway drug accepted in academic and medical circles is as follows: “A drug whose use may make it more likely that someone uses other, more dangerous, drugs.”

If caffeine is a gateway drug, parents need to be aware of this danger. With the plethora of coffee shops across America, the temptation of coffee consumption for teens is everywhere. Coffee shops have become the soda parlors of the 21st century. Kids hang out at them and drink caffeinated beverages before, after, and even during school hours, but they do not know the potential dangers.

Addicted to Coffee: What Does Caffeine Do to the Brain?

As described in Psychology Today, caffeine is more dangerous for adolescents.  A 2015 article clearly outlines the risk of caffeine to the brains of teenagers:

“The adolescent brain responds differently to caffeine as compared to the adult brain. Caffeine produces a more dramatic increase in motor activity in adolescents. Long-term caffeine consumption produces more tolerance faster as compared to adults suggesting that caffeine might produce greater changes in brain chemistry in the developing adolescent brain.”

Given the risk of coffee as a drug, the results of this new study are worrisome. Furthermore, since the teen brain is still growing, the dangers are more profound. And it’s important to help teens avoid unnecessary risks.

The Caffeine Study

In the study, 22 subjects were given caffeine as well as a placebo tablet and asked which they preferred. Afterward, each participant took an amphetamine and rated their experience with the drug. Especially relevant, most participants who preferred the caffeine to the placebo tablet liked the amphetamine.

Therefore, this was a landmark study. It was the first to connect the response to an innocuous substance (caffeine) to that of an addictive substance (stimulant drugs).

Stacey Sigmon is a professor at Vermont University. She says: “People differ in how they respond to drugs. A single dose of a drug can produce opposite effects in two people, with one loving and the other hating the drug’s effects. We must improve our understanding of these differences, as they may reflect key individual differences in vulnerability or resilience for drug abuse.”

Moreover, learning how the brain works may help prevent addiction, especially among teens.

Coffee Addiction Can Lead to Other Harmful Addictions

Parents who notice their teens drinking large amounts of caffeine need not assume that they’re addicted to coffee. Rather, warning signs of excessive consumption include high energy and chattiness followed by depression or isolation. Consequently, parents may see signs of substance abuse, including a move toward new friends who use drugs.

As a parent, taking needed precautions makes sense when it comes to your teen. At Newport Academy, we believe in the important role that prevention plays. Active prevention efforts stop problems before they begin or keep them from spiraling out of control.

If you or a teen you know needs help addressing any kind of stimulant abuse or dependence, contact us.We are here to help.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.