In a fast-paced world, where Starbucks and Red Bull keep adults stimulated, the trend is being passed down to the next generation. Caffeine has become a drug for kids. Instead of exercise as a natural form of energy production, soda, tea, energy drinks and even coffee are providing a synthetic boost to the youngest members of society. Reports show that kids, meaning anyone under the age of 18, are consuming caffeine, a drug that can be abused like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription pills, and any other substance.
A comprehensive study on caffeine consumption shows that 73 percent of all young people in the United States drink “at least some caffeine” every day. Even preschool-aged kids are consuming soda, tea, energy drinks, and even coffee that contain the stimulant. While the amount of caffeine in this age bracket has decreased over the last several years, other age groups are drinking more caffeine that ever. Kids ages 12 to 16 drank twice as much caffeine each day than those between the ages of six and 11. The number rises again for adolescents and teenagers who are drinking the equivalent of four cans of soda, like Pepsi or Coca-Cola, or a standard cup of coffee every day.
While not listed as a harmful substance by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), caffeine is a drug that kids are abusing. When a regular caffeine consumer does not have the substance one day, or even just to start the day, a headache and other symptoms, both physical and psychological, can appear. The same happens in the still developing brain of a child. Similarly, when an alcoholic stops drinking, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking, headache, nausea and an inability to eat or sleep. Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine indicate the body’s reaction to the lack of a needed substance as well.
As defined in the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), drug abuse, categorized as a substance use disorder, is “a pattern” of use of one of more substances (in this case, caffeine) that creates adverse life consequences. Changes in work responsibilities, the loss of a job, and legal repercussions are less likely for caffeine users than for alcohol or heroin users, for example, but the DSM-5 also cites negative physical effects and withdrawal symptoms as signs of a disorder. Therefore, caffeine withdrawal is an indication that physical dependence has developed, and that caffeine is a drug. When a child craves more caffeine and has mood swings when not given any caffeine, the use of this substance has progressed to abuse and dependence.
Dr. Stephen Daniels, head of the pediatrics unit at University of Colorado School of Medicine, warns against the introduction of caffeine to those younger than age 18. Without adequate research and sufficient data on the long-term effects of caffeine, concern is high. Dr. Daniels believes that caffeine consumption should be eliminated from a child’s diet altogether, or at least kept to a minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics also discourages caffeine for young people. While soft drinks account for less caffeine consumption in children, energy drinks and coffee are filling in the gaps for those under the age of 18. Besides caffeine, these beverages contain high levels of sugar and other man-made, unnatural chemicals, with labels that read, “not suitable for children.”
While the average adult living in the United States begins the day with a cup of coffee, and continues to consume caffeine to function throughout the day, do children need the same stimulation? Caffeine has become a drug for kids in the United States. With medical suggestion against its use, and further studies to explore the long-term effects of the stimulant, the regulations for caffeine may change, but right now, this drug is available for sale to anyone who wants to buy it.
By K. Corrine Van Vliet