Caffeine use among children and adolescents may have harmful effects, including depression.
Caffeine is the only legal psychoactive drug that everyone can use. Teens and pre-teens are regular drinkers of drinks such as Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Pepsi, and other pre-packaged coffee drinks. Anyone in the vicinity of cafes will also notice a number of teenagers regularly having a fresh-brew coffee before or after school.
But research just published by the American School Health Association shows strong negative outcomes when youth drink caffeine, and the younger they are the stronger the psychological effect.
One hundred and thirty five 5th graders and 79 teenagers were studied for their caffeine use, and both groups showed frequent caffeine use. Worryingly, both groups were more likely to self-report depressive symptoms the more caffeine they ingested.
There didn't appear to be any impact on 'anxiety' with increased caffeine use, but certainly there are strong effects on depression, which impacts on the student's sleep patterns and academic and social performance.
The authors certainly recognise limits with their study, which are important but not massively so, and end their paper with two suggestions:
- That direct education about the risks of over-indulgence with caffeine (and what are 'safe levels) would be beneficial; and
- That research be conducted on the effect of caffeine on not only depression and anxiety, but also sleep, academic performance, social functioning and social interaction with peers and adults.
I don't know about teenagers (it's a long time since I was one), but the paper certainly makes me question whether the large amount of fresh-brew coffee I take daily is doing my mental health any good...
Source: Luebbe, A.M., & Bell, D.J. 2009. Mountain Dew or Mountain Don't?: A pilot investigation of caffeine use parameters and relations to depression and anxiety symptoms in 5th- and 10th-grade students. Journal of School Health, 79(8); 380-387
Please note the medical disclaimer.