Adolescent Caffeine Consumption May Bring You a Step Closer to Cocaine Addiction Effects of Adolescent Caffeine Consumption on Cocaine Sensitivity | Author: Jaye Jeong

What was your go-to beverage that you drank regularly during your adolescence?

If it was coffee, tea, or even sodas, you may have developed hypersensitivity to cocaine.

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).

Trends in caffeine consumption in the US.

Of course, moderate caffeine consumption is relatively safe. In fact, it is very difficult to consume toxic levels of caffeine from drinks alone (Wilson, 2018). Nonetheless, there has been very little research on the long-term consequences of caffeine in adolescents, especially on the structure and function of a developing brain. Despite what adolescents like to claim regarding their level of maturity, their brain is still undergoing constant development. In other words, during this critical period there is a possibility that caffeine may alter the formation of key connections in the brain.

For instance, studies have found that caffeine intake is positively correlated with:

drug use,
substance-use disorders,
and other risky behaviors (Kendler et al, 2006; Miller, 2008)

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.

Does this mean that anyone who has consumed caffeine during their adolescence is doomed to cocaine addiction?

Most likely not.

However, studies do suggest that adolescents are especially vulnerable to caffeine's long-lasting effect on the structure of the brain that is correlated with substance abuse. Although it is too early to say that a legal age should be enforced on caffeine consumption, it would be worthwhile to rethink caffeine consumption during adolescence.


Created with images by Nathan Dumlao - "untitled image" • max60500 - "shock woman portrait"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a copyright violation, please follow the DMCA section in the Terms of Use.