A Slippery Slope From Caffeine to Cocaine

Growing up, I would always come into the living room to sit with my parents and every morning they would greet me with a sip of their coffee. Twelve years later, I took my first sip and after a little bit of time getting over the bitter taste, I fell in love with coffee. The taste, the smell and especially the way made me wake up and feel like I was ready to attack the day. From then on, throughout high school and into college, I would start every single day with at least one cup of coffee and would often finish 3 or 4 cups before the days end.

Now my story is the same as many of the students that I go to school with now and adolescents around the country; so many people drink it, but even more consume caffeine in other ways. The beauty of caffeine is that it wakes you up and gets you going with no side effects (besides getting a little tired when it wears off). But, what if there were side effects? What if those side effects included an increased sensitivity to cocaine? And what if those side effects strictly affected adolescents? Would people still be as accepting of caffeine? Recently, it was discovered the pathways that are associated with rewards – whether it be food, drugs or sex – overlap with each other and the pathways that govern how caffeine is processed, also overlap with the reward pathways.

When people are chronically exposed to caffeine, the nucleus accumbens (the primary area involved in reward pathways), becomes more and more sensitive to the caffeine. This may not be a problem in adults, but adolescents, with their still maturing brains, could be at risk. When the adolescents continually consume caffeine over months and years, the reward pathways that process the caffeine, are able to form new connections other reward pathways, such as those that govern an individual’s sensitivity to cocaine. The more caffeine that someone consumes during their adolescent years, the greater risk they are at for developing a greater sensitivity to cocaine.

Now, parents can choose what rules they want to enforce with their teenagers. But, will their rebellious teen still listen to their rules about caffeine when they aren’t around? More often than not, high schools will have vending machines strewn throughout the school. Occasionally, companies will make sizeable contributions to school districts in order for them to build a new gym, per say, and in exchange, the school places these vending machines around. This makes it very easy for younger students to grab a coke and thus, are exposed to caffeine on a regular basis. Maybe, in the near future - as the drug epidemic continues to rage - we should consider policies to limit the next generations exposure to caffeine, and subsequently, cocaine.


O’Neill, C. E. O. A., Levis, S. C., Schreiner, D. C., Amat, J., Maier, S. F., & Bachtell, R. K. (2015). Effects of Adolescent Caffeine Consumption on Cocaine Sensitivity. Neuropsychopharmacology, 40(4), 813–821.


Created with images by Jeremy Banks - "untitled image" • Justin Eisner - "untitled image" • skeeze - "supreme court building usa"

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