“You should try it. It’ll make you feel real good, real hyper. You try this stuff and you’ll be up all night, bouncin’ off the walls and stuff like that. It’ll make you feel wild.”
I overheard this conversation in the grocery store several weeks ago. Ordinarily, had I heard a snippet of a conversation like that, I would have called the police– but this conversation wasn’t a cocaine deal. It was an eight-year-old boy talking to his five-year-old sister about a coffee drink mix.
Caffeine is the most widely abused psychoactive drug in the world, surpassing even nicotine and alcohol in its global number of consumers. Ninety percent of adults in the United States consume it every day, and few of them think anything of it. Because caffeine is such a widely used drug, adults often forget the very real consequences of giving this drug to children and even toddlers.
A powerful central nervous system stimulant, caffeine is an addictive drug that affects the psychological and physical state of the person who uses it. Symtpoms of caffeine intoxication are nearly identical to other stimulants like amphetamines and cocaine, and include jitteriness, insomnia, neurosis, anxiety, heart palpitations, stomach cramping, and tremors. In larger doses, it can even cause hallucinations, psychosis, and loss of bowel and bladder control.
Giving up caffeine may be more difficult for some people than giving up highly addictive drugs like nicotine, and withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable. When a person tries to stop using caffeine, they are likely to experience headaches, neurosis, extreme fatigue, dry mouth, depression, constipation, and anxiety.
Knowing that this drug is so hazardous to the health of children and adults alike, and may comprimise a child’s psychological health, it is a wonder that any parents allow their children to consume caffeine on a daily basis. While the vast majority of children consume caffeinated sodas, teas, and even coffee every day, few parents stop to consider the potential implications that caffeine may have on their child’s development.
Diagnosis of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is extremely common in the United States, but several sources have postulated that this may largely be a misdiagnosis. Given the symptoms that adults experience when intoxicated by caffeine, it’s no wonder that children undergo similar effects and may struggle to sit still or pay attention after consuming a large glass of tea or soda.
Many children may also struggle with mental illnesses like anxiety and insomnia that result from excess caffeine consumption on a daily basis. Some parents make the mistake of medicating or scolding their children for these and other behavioral problems without considering the impact that the child’s food has on his central nervous system.
While some parents may not wish to fully eliminate caffeine from their child’s dietary intake, it is important that parents consider the potential implications that caffeine might have on early childhood development and on the child’s behavioral conditions. No drug– caffeine included– should be readily available and unlimited for children’s use.
Source: Sanford Bolton, PhD. Caffeine: Psychological Effects, Use, and Abuse. 15 Jan 09.