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The Consequences of Coffee on Teens: Good and Bad

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

by Corinne Wilson

The majority of teenagers consume caffeine on a daily basis, through a variety of sources. And while caffeinated sodas and energy drinks garner most of the attention from health care professionals and the media when debating caffeine’s impact on the health of adolescents, coffee often flies under the radar despite teens gravitating to it in large numbers. According to the National Coffee Association, there has been a robust increase in coffee consumption among Americans 13-18 years old, with a 60 percent increase in just 3 years. Today, nearly 4 in 10 American teens drink coffee. Whether teens are looking for a java jolt to kick start their day, re-energize mid-day, an afterschool treat with friends, or to help stay alert for a late night of studying, coffee has become an essential staple to many teens.

Although it’s difficult to consider coffee a beneficial substance for teens since it has essentially no nutritional value, its quality as a stimulant can provide a quick relief from drowsiness for those who become exhausted from juggling school, extracurricular activities and work as the caffeine travels quickly to your brain, leading to rapid relief of your sleepiness. Other benefits may include enhanced athletic performance and a memory boost. According to a 2014 study published in “Nature Neuroscience,” drinking a single cup of coffee while memorizing school material can help with attention issues and keep memory sharp for up to 24 hours or even beyond. And while not at the forefront of the minds of most teens, long term consumption of coffee has also been linked to reducing the risks of heart disease, multiple sclerosis, type-2 diabetes, liver disease and Alzheimer’s.

Coffee also has a social outlet aspect, with teens meeting at coffee shops to study and hang out. In a Today parenting article, many parents viewed their teens’ coffee drinking as the “least of possible evils.” These parents rationalized that the more time their teens spent in coffee shops, the less likely they would be involved in worse mischief. Even more parents viewed coffee drinking as a way for their teen to fit in with a group of peers and develop self-esteem.

However, despite being socially acceptable in most circles and readily accessible, before making the decision to start drinking coffee, teens must remember that caffeine is a drug affecting the central nervous system. There are associated risks to both the mind and body, and teens should understand the side effects of caffeine. According to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenagers should consume no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day. Depending on your body and tolerance of the stimulant, low or moderate consumption of caffeine might not lead to any side effects. Yet caffeine affects everyone differently and teens need to be cognizant of the possible symptoms of too much caffeine.

Symptoms of excessive caffeine consumption range from a jittery feeling, irritability, nervousness, anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbances, a rapid heartbeat, depression and even death. If you drink coffee in the morning, its energy boost can wear off by noon, which means you might feel sleepy by midday and require another cup to stay alert. Moreover, use in the afternoon and evening can lead to difficulty falling asleep and insomnia. It’s also possible to develop a dependency on caffeine and a tolerance requiring higher doses to get the same benefit of alertness. Abrupt cessation can lead to withdrawal symptoms including headaches, irritability and drowsiness. Excessive intake of caffeine is also linked to nicotine use in teens. And for those that don’t find the strong taste of coffee appealing, adding milk, sugar and flavorings can, over time, result in weight gain.

Given that a plain, tall 12 ounce Starbucks coffee contains 193 mg of caffeine, nearly twice the recommended caffeine intake for adolescents, it behooves everyone to educate themselves on how coffee affects their body and brain. Education on the risks related to caffeine and the safe amounts they can consume is the key to maximizing the benefits while minimizing the risks. Teaching decaffeinated choices, as well as reducing the overall amount we drink, can help prevent the risks involved with excessive intakes.


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