Caffeine generally has no harmful longterm physical effects, although some of the drug's short-term effects are not desirable if you consume too much caffeine. Teenagers experience overdose effects and are also vulnerable to caffeine addiction, which involves an uncomfortable withdrawal process for people who decide to stop their intake of the drug in any form.
Caffeine is generally safe and provides desirable effects like energy and wakefulness for teens who do not use more than 300 mg, or the amount found in up to four cups of regular coffee. Anything above 400 to 600 mg is excessive and may cause physical problems, like stomach upsets, agitation, increase heart rate, anxiety, muscular tremors and insomnia, according to MayoClinic.com. Teens who inadvertently mix caffeine sources, like coffee and colas, or who use many energy shots or beverages, may suffer from these effects.
Teenagers who regularly use at least 400 mg of caffeine subject themselves to addiction. Johns Hopkins Medicine warns that addicted teens suffer from withdrawal symptoms if they decide to stop taking any caffeine. Withdrawal means a bout with symptoms like achy muscles, headaches, fatigue, sadness, vomiting and impaired mental focus. The effects are worse for the first two days, then taper off completely by the ninth day. Symptoms are often avoidable by slowly tapering off caffeine intake rather than stopping it abruptly, which lets the body get used to the reduced amounts.
Even caffeine's normal, desirable effects can harm teenagers who rely on the drug for wakefulness when they should be sleeping. Teens need at least eight hours of nightly sleep to be properly alert the next day. Those who regularly use caffeine at night tend to fall asleep during school and other daytime activities. A 2009 study by Dr. Christina Calamaro of Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions showed that teens typically relied on caffeine or energy drinks to help them stay up late, then had impaired functioning the next day. Most teens in the study only used the equivalent of the caffeine found in a cup or two of coffee, but more than 11 percent took in more than 400 mg, enough to trigger bad physical effects.
Teenagers are not the youngest consumers of caffeine. A 2010 study by Dr. William Warzak of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, published in the "Journal of Pediatrics," found that 3/4 of kids between the ages 5 and 12 take in caffeine daily, often in the form of soda. Children who consume caffeine have the same sleep impairments and next-day drowsiness as teenagers, which may lower their academic performance.
- MayoClinic.com; Caffeine, How Much is Too Much?; March 2011
- Johns Hopkins Medicine; Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized as a Disorder; September 2004
- Science Daily; Caffeine Drinking Teens Don't Get Enough Sleep; July 2009
- CBS News Health Pop; Caffeine and Kids, Bad Combination?; Sammy Rose Saltzman; December 2010