BY RACHEL SHARPE
After a long day of school and after school activities, the average teenager is exhausted by 11 p.m. They then look at their pile of homework and realize that they are going to be up for several more hours. Their solution? Caffeine.
Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world. Eighty-five percent of Americans consume caffeine habitually and according to the American Dietetic Association, the amount of caffeinated drinks consumed by teenagers has tripled since the 1970s. Though caffeine has benefits if consumed in moderation, frequent consumption of caffeine can have dangerous consequences.
Whether it is coffee, energy drinks, or carbonated soda, many teens consume caffeine on a daily basis to give them an extra boost of energy. Once a teen starts to consume caffeine on a regular basis, they no longer use it to raise their alertness but instead to maintain their current level of alertness. Without caffeine, they become unable to function normally. However, with many health risks, including high blood pressure and increased heart rates, it is clear that teens are overindulging in caffeine.
This may be due to the fact that in American culture, caffeine is more than just a beverage. Drinking coffee is now a “style” and has become a way of socializing with peers. Caffeinated drinks, such as Starbucks Frappuccinos and caramel lattes, are favorites among teens; however, they contain a lot of sugar, fat, carbohydrates and caffeine, which are extremely unhealthy for growing teenagers.
Another major concern is that teenagers are substituting caffeinated beverages for nutritious meals. Replacing breakfast with a cup of coffee could be detrimental to ones diet because it puts the body in starvation mode and depletes the body of glycogen it needs to function throughout the day. Caffeine is also an addictive substance that blocks the absorption of calcium, which is crucial for ones growth.
The popularity of energy drinks including Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle, and Amp is also alarming. Energy drinks are part of a $10 billion dollar market, with teens responsible for a large majority of this number. The scary part is that many teens aren’t even aware of how much caffeine they are consuming when they drink an energy drink. The internet advertising for SoBe’s Adrenalin Rush describes the drink as “pure, concentrated energy in an 8.3 fluid once can” and describes supplements D-Ribose, L-Carnitite and Taurine as “natural energizing elements.” However, the ad fails to reveal that the drink is loaded with up to 80 milligrams of caffeine.
Energy drinks are far worse than regular soda because they often contain up to twice the amount of caffeine. According to Nick Kelly, director with USANA Health Sciences, excessive use and abuse of energy drinks can be just as dangerous as drugs or long-term alcohol consumption. In addition, side effects of drinking caffeine include withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, drowsiness, decreased energy, difficulty concentrating, depression, insomnia and decreased alertness. These symptoms are very similar to those experienced by people withdrawing from alcohol and drugs.
Though we may think that caffeine is giving us an extra jolt of energy, caffeine is in fact faking out our system into believing it is less tired than it really is. Therefore, we are still actually experiencing fatigue and simply blocking out the messages that our body is sending us. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average teenager needs 9 1/4 hours of sleep each night to function best. However, too much caffeine can cause teenagers to not get enough sleep on a daily basis, which can ultimately lead to loss of behavioral control, aggressive behavior, negative moods and impulsiveness.
Because of all the health risks associated with caffeinated beverages, it is wise for teenagers to limit their caffeine intake and be conscious of how much they are putting into their bodies. There are many alternatives to drinking caffeine such as exercising daily. While it may be hard to stop drinking caffeine altogether, teenagers must remember that moderation is key.