With Eyes Wide Open: American Teens’ Craze with Caffeine

Is your teen consuming too much caffeine?

Posted May 20, 2014

"One more week," Chase thought as he fought to keep his eyes open. "School's almost out... I just have to make it through one more week." Chase's laptop, books, and papers were strewn across his room in a haphazard order that only he could understand. He was preparing for his exam week, a.k.a. “the week from hell” and frankly he was not looking forward to it. In the upcoming week, Chase had to take eight cumulative exams that he desperately needed to ace. Next year he would be a senior and this was his final shot at pulling up his GPA.

Chase knew the importance of the upcoming week, so he fought hard to keep his eyes open. The computer read 1:30 am and in 4 1/2 hours his alarm would go off, but he wasn't close to being finished. He opened his dresser drawer and a grabbed two small bottles that promised alertness and energy and downed them in less than thirty seconds flat. Within a short time 250mg of caffeine surged through his system and kicked his body into overdrive. Now he could pull the much needed “all-nighter.”  

Think this scenario is uncommon? Sadly, it isn't. As many teens across the nation prepare for their final exams, they are turning to a substance—a drug—to help them get through the long nights of studying. This drug, Caffeine, is widely accepted in the American culture and in fact many adults turn to it for many of the same reasons that Chase did.  

What makes caffeine so popular is its quick energizing effect that can convert a “zombie” into the “Energizer Bunny”, but even the bunny has to stop sometime...Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system to help increase alertness and energy. It has been shown to improve attention and memory, and increase perception. Plus, ingesting moderate amounts has not been shown to be harmful. In fact, some studies have shown some benefits to consuming mild to moderate amounts of caffeine. The trouble comes when too much is consumed and, because the caffeine craze is a relatively new phenomenon, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not determined how much is considered a "safe amount" for teens.

Just how much caffeine are teens consuming on a daily basis? Well, considering that the number of teenagers drinking caffeinated beverages has tripled since the 1970's (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), I’d say a lot!  According to the National Coffee Association, youth under the legal drinking age are one of the fastest-growing populations of coffee drinkers. 

Do you know how much is too much?

Quick Fact – The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that caffeine and other stimulant substances contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents should not consume more than 100 mg of caffeine a day. Young children should not drink caffeinated beverages on a regular basis. The general dose for adults is usually around 200-400mg or approximately two to four cups of coffee per day. 

The more caffeine the better, right? Not so fast... did you know that one bottle of Redline energy drink contains 316mg of caffeine in one 8 fl. oz serving? How about one 8 fl. oz cup of the world's strongest coffee, “Death Wish Coffee”? Try this on for size…over a whooping 400mg!

Want to know how much caffeine your favorite beverage has?  Click the link below to find out.


Quick Fact:  Did you know that caffeine can remain in your system for about four hours?  

Do you know the warning signs of ingesting too much Caffeine?

  • Jitters, Restlessness, and Nervousness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Frequent urination
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Worse-case-scenario: Cardiac arrest

What are teens drinking?

According to the University of Michigan's "Monitoring the Future" study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse Research, around 30 percent of teens report drinking caffeine-containing energy drinks or shots. More than 40 percent report drinking soft drinks every day, and 20 percent drink diet soft drinks daily. Who is consuming the most caffeine? Boys were more likely to use energy drinks than girls. According to the study, eighth graders were most likely to use energy drinks or shots. There was also an increase in use for teens that lived in one-parent homes and those whose parents were less educated.

Teens who are "sensation-seeking or risk-oriented” and drink energy drinks may be more likely to use other substances as well, according to research by Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, MSA, and colleagues of the Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Teens that used energy drinks were more likely to report recent use of alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs. Soft drink consumption was also related to substance use. However, the associations were much stronger for energy drinks and shots. It should be noted that soft drinks were also related to substance use, but associations with substance use were greater for energy drinks. Researchers did point out that their study provided no cause-and-effect data showing that energy drinks lead to substance abuse in teens.


All of the facts and statistics that we have on caffeine lead to some questions that warrant answers...Why is there a caffeine craze in America? Are we pushing teens too much with our demands? Do they feel that they cannot get it done and need a “pick me up” to help? Do they like the euphoric feeling they feel when pumped up on caffeine? In the long run, how will caffeine affect them? That is what is most scary.

Go into any convenience store or turn on the TV for that matter and you'll see ads everywhere pushing their colorful, highly attractive graphics on young consumers. And it's not just the teens that the market is trying to reach. While watching The Voice the other night, I noticed the judges’ Starbucks cups sitting on their chairs. Plus, if you go into any large chain vitamin store, you'll find supplements and powdered drinks that contain energy producing stimulants (i.e., Ginseng and the B vitamins). The market seems to be pushing products that promise energy, alertness, stamina, and performance, and we are buying into it. Where do exercise, sleep and healthy eating fit into the picture? Is a chemical really going to replace our basic needs?

For the “Chase's” out there...with exams around the corner, take some time to get some exercise, eat well and, most importantly, get some sleep. These three things will bring you far better results than any drug on the market.


Journal Reference:

Yvonne M. Terry-McElrath, Patrick M. OʼMalley, Lloyd D. Johnston. Energy Drinks, Soft Drinks, and Substance Use Among United States Secondary School StudentsJournal of Addiction Medicine, 2014; 8 (1): 6. DOI:10.1097/01.ADM.0000435322.07020.53

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