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NIDA. (2014, June 25). The Buzz on Caffeine. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
June 25 2014
Coffee cup and coffee beans

This post from 2012 gets a refresh highlighting new caffeine trends.

Question: What’s the most widely used drug?

It’s not marijuana—and no, it’s not tobacco or alcohol either. Nine out of 10 Americans take it in some form every day, and it’s not limited to adults.

Hint: According to a recent study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly three-fourths (75%) of children, teens, and young adults use it daily too—in the form of soda, coffee, and energy drinks.

Answer: Caffeine!

That’s right, caffeine is a drug—a stimulant drug, to be exact. It’s even possible to be physically dependent on it—which means that a person who is used to drinking lots of caffeinated beverages can experience withdrawal symptoms if they quit.

Caffeine: Breaking Down the Buzz

Caffeine has a perk-up effect because it blocks a brain chemical, adenosine, which causes sleepiness. On its own, moderate amounts of caffeine rarely cause harmful long-term health effects, although it is definitely possible to take too much caffeine and get sick as a result.

Consuming too much caffeine can make you feel jittery or jumpy—your heart may race and your palms may sweat, kind of like a panic attack. It may also interfere with your sleep, which is especially important while your brain is still developing.

Some caffeine drinks and foods will affect you more than others, because they contain very different amounts.

Caffeine Source Caffeine Content
8 oz black tea 14‒70 milligrams (mg)
12 oz cola 23‒35 mg
8.4 oz Red Bull 75‒80 mg
8 oz regular coffee 95‒200 mg
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips 104 mg
2 oz 5-Hour Energy Shot 200‒207 mg

But it’s more than just how much caffeine a beverage has that can make it harmful. Even though energy drinks don’t necessarily have more caffeine than other popular beverages (that is, unless you take 8 ounces of 5-Hour Energy Shot, which has 400 milligrams!), it’s the way they are sometimes used that worries health experts.

In 2011, of the 20,783 emergency room visits because of energy drinks, 42% were because the user combined them with other drugs (e.g., prescription drugs, alcohol, or marijuana).

Caffeine + Alcohol = Danger

Mixing alcohol and caffeine is serious business. As a stimulant, caffeine sort of has the opposite effect on the brain as alcohol, which is a depressant. But don’t think the effects of each are canceled out! In fact, drinking caffeine doesn’t reduce the intoxication effect of alcohol (that is, how drunk you become) or reduce its cognitive impairments (that is, your ability to walk or drive or think clearly). But it does reduce alcohol’s sedation effects, so you feel more awake and probably drink for longer periods of time, and you may think you are less drunk than you really are.

That can be super dangerous. People who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks are 3 times more likely to binge drink than people who do not report mixing alcohol with energy drinks.

Stay Away From Caffeine?

Drinking a cup of coffee, or eating a bar of chocolate, is usually not a big deal. But there are alternatives to caffeine if you’re looking for an energy burst but don’t want to get that jittery feeling caffeine sometimes causes. Here are a few alternatives you can try to feel energized without overdoing the caffeine:

  • Sleep. This may sound obvious, but getting enough sleep is important. Teens need 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Eat regularly. When you don’t eat, your glucose (sugar) levels drop, making you feel drained. Some people find it helpful to eat four or five smaller meals throughout the day instead of fewer big meals.
  • Drink enough water. Since our bodies are more than two-thirds H20, we need at least 64 ounces of water a day.
  • Take a walk. If you’re feeling drained in the middle of the day, it helps to move around. Do sit-ups or jumping jacks. Go outside for a brisk walk or ride your bike.

Now we want to know: Do you think it’s possible to overdo caffeine?