Caffeine Addiction & Adolescents: A Comprehensive Study

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A four-year study of the addictive effects of caffeine on adolescents is underway, and the first results are surprising.

The Study

Dr. Jennifer L. Temple, a neurobiologist, is studying caffeine consumption in children in order to answer three big questions:

  1. How strong is the appeal of caffeine to children who drink large amounts of soft drinks?
  2. What physical impact does caffeine consumption have on things like blood pressure, heart rate, and hand tremor?
  3. Is caffeine consumption during adolescence associated with later use of legal or illegal drugs?

Results of the first part of the study, answering question number 1, were recently published in the journal Behavioural Pharmacology. Temple and her colleagues were surprised to find that there was no difference in the reinforcing potential of caffeine between groups of high and low caffeine consumers, but there was a difference between boys and girls: boys in the study worked harder to obtain caffeinated beverages than girls did.

What Does This Mean?

There has been little research conducted on caffeine use in children and adolescents, and this new finding of sex differences in caffeine reinforcement adds an interesting layer to the existing literature. Temple suggests that the difference could be due to hormones, or to females possibly being less sensitive to the effects of caffeine.

Perhaps even more significant will be the answers to the next two questions, particularly whether caffeine consumption during adolescence has an effect on later drug use. The research for question 2 has already been completed and will soon be reported; research on the third question is just beginning.

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