Whether it is a cup of morning coffee or a can of soda, caffeine often has a place in our daily lives. Lately, caffeine has been increasingly added as a supplement to energy drinks in high concentrations, expanding its accessibility to people who dislike the bitter taste of caffeine but desire for the boost of energy. Therefore, it is not a surprise that caffeine consumption worldwide has been steadily growing in recent years (Branum et al., 2014).What is concerning, however, is that a good portion of these caffeine users are adolescents. According to recent studies, approximately 73% of children in America consume caffeine on a given day, and adolescent’s daily caffeine consumption has more than doubled since the 1980s (Branum et al., 2014; O’Neil et al., 2015).
In a study headed by researcher Casey E. O’Neill, it was found that the relationship between caffeine and substance use was not a mere statistical coincidence. Using a rat model, they discovered that caffeine consumption during adolescence significantly increased sensitivity to cocaine in adulthood.
More specifically, early caffeine consumption was found to cause various enduring changes within the nucleus accumbens - an area of the brain that is crucial in controlling motivation and reward – increasing the effects of cocaine, as well as its reward value. Although further studies are required, this suggests that caffeine exposure during adolescence may make a person more susceptible to addiction and relapses by increasing desire and craving for cocaine.
Interestingly enough, when the experiment was repeated in adult rats, these changes in the brain structure and function were not observed. Whether this may be good news for adult "coffeeholics" or not, this finding highlights a sensitive period for neural development during adolescence and the worrisome effect of caffeine.
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