Stimulants have become prominent in teens with side effects becoming more well known
“One time at work, I had about four or five cups of coffee,” junior Marin Fredrickson remembered. “By the end of work, I wasn’t feeling good and my stomach was cramping up. I was standing at the register checking a woman out and I just fell back and convulsed a little. I had to sit on a bench for a little and couldn’t walk because my insides needed water. I got really dehydrated from it and my heart rate was way up too. It just really hurt, and we were debating if I needed to get an IV or something like that. I passed out mainly because of the caffeine, but also because I didn’t get enough water or food earlier in the day. I have cut myself down to two or three cups a day.”
Three out of four youths ranging from 8-17 years old consume caffeine daily, according to a study published in the July 2014 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.
Teenagers today are packing their schedules to the brim, with the idea of sleep as being a non-necessity. To fill the void, caffeine usage is abused to the point of addiction. Caffeine almost always affects teenagers detrimentally, with almost non-existent benefits.
“I probably have around one to two cups of coffee a day,” senior Rachel Zellie said, “I like coffee for the taste and it makes me more alert. If I don’t get my coffee, I get really bad caffeine headaches that are just plain awful.”
Caffeine can cause an irregular heartbeat, confusion, dehydration, nausea, muscle tremors, anxiety and even overdosing, like Fredrickson experienced.
“An addiction is shown by some sort of physical side effect,” health teacher Mary Carlson said, “and I’d think that addiction would happen faster with teens than with adults.”
“I had a bigger issue with caffeinated pop when I was younger. I was a little bit hooked. If we used to go to somebody’s house and they didn’t serve pop, all of a sudden I’d get a headache, because I didn’t drink caffeine. And when I realized something else was controlling my life, I didn’t like it.”
“As a teenager, if you’re drinking [caffeine] everyday, and you have to have it everyday, then you’ve gone too far,” she said. “It shouldn’t be a necessity.” These symptoms don’t come with moderation, which is what Carlson stresses is the way teens should be drinking caffeine.
Where does the limit lie? Seen in Pediatrics, cardiologist Doctor John Higgins from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston claimed that teenagers should limit themselves to less than 100 mg of caffeine daily. That translates into only one cup of coffee, two and a half cans of pop or half an energy drink. When 400-500 mg are consumed, many of the more severe symptoms appear.
Even more dangerous in energy drinks are the additives used in combination with the caffeine. Guarana, taurine, B vitamins and glucuronolactone are all used in the majority of energy drinks. When combined with high dosage of caffeine, serious complications such as seizures and cardiac arrest are seen.
But, does anyone really only have half an energy drink or just one cup of coffee? The usual coffee drinker’s answer is between two to four cups. People like Zellie and Fredrickson that make caffeine a daily must-have claim they’re not addicted, but have they fallen into the trap unknowingly?
To find out, teens need to understand what an addiction actually is. There’s a physical and emotional side to the story.
“Caffeine mimics a neurochemical in your brain called adenosine,” psychology teacher Julie Johnson explained. “Adenosine is produced by neurons in your brain throughout the day, and the more your brain produces, the more your nervous system calms down. As the chemical passes through the receptors, the adenosine tab increases until your nervous system pays it off by putting you to sleep. Caffeine is mimicking that, its like tricking you to stay awake.”
The more caffeine consumed, the more it disrupts the nervous system, making it harder to go to sleep. Because caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, regular use can cause a dependence to form. The more caffeine consumed, the higher the tolerance builds and the more caffeine is needed to give that same high. Caffeine is a drug, but the addictive qualities of it are a much milder version of serious addictions.
The physical side kicks in when caffeine intake is unexpectedly stopped. Withdrawal can cause symptoms seen like Zellie, Fredrickson and Carlson all experienced. Even further than addiction, excessive caffeine usage can cause greater heart rate and blood pressure in the long run.
Males and females are affected differently, however. The same issue of Pediatrics shows that males experience greater heart-rate and blood-pressure changes than females do. The researchers found that caffeine lowered the heart rates of the 100 adolescents tested by about three to eight beats per minute, males being more affected than females.
The greatest risk of all lies in the fact that all of this evidence is limited.
“The biggest risk of caffeine is that they don’t know what risks come with teenagers drinking it,” Carlson stressed. “Teenagers haven’t been drinking as much caffeine as they have now. So, the question is what does happens in the teen body when they have too much caffeine?”
Society today is running on overtime. According to Psychology Today, Americans have knocked off 90 minutes of sleep in the last 40 years, and they’re working harder to shave off more. The stress of everyday life is starting to fall on teen’s shoulders, and their only way to cope is through cutting out sleep.
“The biggest issue for me with caffeine is [someone] using it as a drug, instead of just as a pleasure purpose,” Carlson said. “If my daughter was a teenager now, I would probably tell her that she don’t need to go out for coffee every morning.”
With all of this said, there are some benefits to using caffeine.
“A small amount of caffeine can be beneficial, it can help to sharpen your mind and thought process,” said nurse Heidi Streed. As far as health benefits, research only confirms them for adults. It is known to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes and dementia.
“I rarely see students come in with caffeine headaches, however. I think our school is pretty good about controlling intake,” she said.
One thing that rang true in every study is that moderation is key for teenagers using caffeine. Slow down stop trying to pile everything on at once, and just enjoy teen life.