The Pros and Cons of Caffeine Consumption in Teens

Note: this article is an update from the original post in July 2016

Teenagers should consume no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day, according to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Why? Consuming high amounts of caffeine can cause irritability, nervousness, rapid heartbeat and anxiety.

Here are five more reasons to help teens limit their daily caffeine intake:

1. Caffeinated drinks often contain empty calories.

Many caffeinated drinks also have lots of sugar and fat. Drinking too much soda may rob teens of valuable nutrients such as calcium.

“Even if you’re drinking tea or coffee, if you’re adding milk, sugar or honey, that can be a problem” with added calories and sugar, says Ty G. Bristol, MD, MPH, a pediatrician at UNC Pediatrics at Panther Creek.

2. Caffeinated drinks can cause dental problems.

Drinking coffee or tea can stain teeth. The sugar in many caffeinated beverages can lead to cavities.

3. Caffeine can cause insomnia.

Caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep at night, which could lead to insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

“Some teens can get twitchy, and caffeine can cause insomnia if you consume too much or late at night,” Dr. Bristol says.

4. Caffeine can affect your heart and head.

Large amounts of caffeine can raise blood pressure in some people.

“If you drink too much, especially those big energy drinks, they can increase your heart rate, and blood pressure goes up with caffeine,” Dr. Bristol says.

It also can cause withdrawal headaches.

“A kid that drinks too much caffeine chronically in high doses can develop a tolerance to it,” Dr. Bristol says. “And then, of course, if they try to stop, they can have withdrawal symptoms, which includes rebound headaches.”

5. Caffeine can drain your wallet.

Caffeinated beverages can be expensive, especially when you buy drinks from popular coffee chains. Think about how much money you could save if you didn’t spend so much on caffeine.

But if consumed in moderation, caffeine intake has benefits, too.

Here are three benefits of caffeine consumption for teens:

1. Caffeine can increase alertness and mental energy.

“Caffeine is a stimulant, and stimulants can help with attention issues,” Dr. Bristol says. “A little bit of coffee can help you be alert to give you a little bit of good mental energy.”

2. Caffeine in small doses can reduce headaches.

A small amount of caffeine may ease headaches. Before a headache, blood vessels tend to enlarge, but caffeine has properties that cause the blood vessels to narrow and restrict blood flow, which can help reduce head pain.

“Caffeine is actually used in some of the headache medicines,” Dr. Bristol says.

3. Caffeine can help you poop.

Drinking coffee can stimulate movement of the muscles in your colon that cause bowel movements.

“There are some studies that say a little bit of caffeine can actually help with constipation because of how it affects the colonic muscle,” Dr. Bristol says.

So Should Your Teen Drink Caffeine?

It’s important to know how much caffeine is in your teen’s drinks.

“Too much of anything is not a good thing,” Dr. Bristol says. “The key is moderation.”

Dr. Bristol also says never to mix caffeine with drugs or alcohol.

“Whether it’s illicit drugs or alcohol, you may be compounding the side effects of those things,” he says.

Think your teen may be drinking too much caffeine? Talk to your doctor, or find one near you.