How Much Caffeine Should My Teen Drink?

Teenager pouring themselves a cup of coffee

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Caffeine is a stimulant that some teenagers rely on to help them navigate the demands of modern-day adolescence. Whether it is a late-night study or a pre-sport pick-me-up, caffeine can help boost falling energy levels and improve alertness.

However, experts have warned that too much caffeine could be having a detrimental effect on teenagers' health. Anxiety disrupted sleep, caffeine withdrawal and even overdose are all associated with caffeine consumption in teenagers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine intake for children and young adults, while other recommendations cap a teenager's daily caffeine consumption at under 100 milligrams per day, which is equivalent to one very small cup of coffee or two small cans of soda. With some energy drinks containing as much as 400 milligramsof caffeine per can, the recommended limit is easily exceeded.

"We have done research showing that daily consumption of even just one energy drink containing 200 milligrams [of caffeine] can disrupt sleep and increase feelings of jitteriness among college students," warns Laura Juliano, PhD, a caffeine researcher, and professor of psychology at American University in Washington, D.C. "We also found that after just a few weeks of daily consumption, people can experience withdrawal symptoms if they miss a day."

We explore in further detail how much caffeine your teen might be consuming, what effect this may be having on their health, and, finally, how they can safely cut back on their caffeine consumption.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a psychoactive (mood-altering) drug that acts as a stimulant when consumed. Caffeine is naturally sourced from the leaves and seeds of over 60 different plants, including coffee beans, cocoa beans, and tea leaves. Around 85% of Americans consume caffeine daily.

Most of us associate caffeine with coffee; however, a form of synthetic caffeine can also be found in some of the foods, drinks, and medications that we consume. While the FDA requires any caffeine added to food or beverage products to be included in the ingredients list, there is no requirement to identify naturally occurring caffeine.

Products with chocolate or coffee in them, even if they are not the main ingredient, contribute to our overall caffeine intake. For example, a 100-gram portion of dark chocolate made up of between 60 to 70% cocoa solids contains 86 milligrams of caffeine, which is a sizable chunk of a teenager’s recommended cap of 100 milligrams. However, this won’t be detailed on the ingredient list.

"Become familiar with the different sources of caffeine and find out how much caffeine an item contains before putting it in your body," Dr. Juliano advises.

Common Sources of Caffeine

An estimated 73% of children around the world consume caffeine regularly, with the majority of caffeine coming from store-bought coffee and tea.

The amount of caffeine present in each product can vary significantly and across product types, says Dr. Juliano. These are some of the common sources of caffeine among teens:

  • Starbucks Caffè Americano grande: 225mg (16 ounces)
  • Dunkin' Coffee: 210mg (14 ounces)
  • Starbucks Matcha Green Tea Latte: 80mg (16 ounces)
  • Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino: 105 mg (13.7 ounces)
  • Lipton Black Tea: 55mg (1 bag, brewed)
  • GT’s Synergy Raw Kombucha: 8-16mg (16 ounces)
  • Diet Coke: 46 mg (12 ounces)
  • Mountain Dew: 54 mg (12 ounces)
  • Coca-Cola: 34 mg (12 ounces)
  • Monster Energy: 160 mg (16 ounces)
  • Bang: 300 mg (16 ounces)
  • Phocus Caffeinated Sparkling Water: 75 mg (11.5 ounces)

As well as being present in chocolate, chocolate-flavored ice creams, and yogurt, caffeine is also readily available for your teen to consume in some over-the-counter medications. These include:

  • Blowfish for Hangovers: 120 mg (2 tablets)
  • Excedrin Migraine: 130 mg (2 caplets)
  • Hydroxycut Hardcore: 270 mg ( 2 capsules)
  • Jet-Alert Regular Strength: 100 mg (1 tablet)

How Caffeine Consumption Can Impact Your Teen's Health

The immediate short-term effects of 'normal' levels of caffeine consumption can include stimulation of the nervous system, increased heart rate, increased gastric secretions (watery bowel movements), and diuresis (passing water more frequently), says Catherine Miller, MD, an assistant professor in the division of adolescent medicine in the department of pediatrics at the University of Michigan.

At high doses, side effects of caffeine can include headaches, stomachaches, and nausea. However, the long-term health associations include arrhythmias, a cardiac condition that can be aggravated by caffeine.

"Overconsumption of caffeine can lead to anxiety, sleep disruption, caffeine intoxication, and caffeine dependence," says Dr. Juliano. "The amount of caffeine in just one serving of coffee or energy drinks is enough to make some people feel jittery or anxious," says Dr. Juliano.

Caffeine consumption can also wreak havoc on your teen's sleep schedule. Even consuming caffeine early in the day can potentially cause shorter sleep duration, more interrupted sleep, and reduced quality of sleep. "Negative impacts on sleep are a big issue for teens, which may lead to greater day-time fatigue and then more caffeine use—setting up a hard cycle to break," warns Dr. Miller.

Ultimately, teens need to pay attention to how their body feels with caffeine. "While most teens tolerate a daily caffeine dose between 50 to 100 milligrams, teens with heart conditions, liver disease, anxiety, and sleep disorders may need to be particularly careful with caffeine," says Dr. Miller.

Effects of Caffeine by Sex

The same amount of caffeine can affect different people in different ways. There is also evidence to suggest that, after reaching puberty, sex plays a part in our body's response to caffeine.

One study found that, overall, caffeine had a greater impact on teens assigned male at birth than on teens assigned female at birth. However, as Dr. Juliano points out, there are other factors to take into consideration when evaluating how sex can alter the effects of caffeine.

"Women taking birth control pills will feel the effects of caffeine more intensely because oral contraceptives interfere with caffeine metabolism," she says. In addition to this, people who smoke cigarettes metabolize caffeine much more quickly. "Become aware of your own sensitivity to caffeine...You may need to consume less than others around you to avoid negative effects."

Can My Teen Overdose on Caffeine?

In 2017, a 16-year-old boy tragically died after consuming too many caffeinated drinks within a two-hour period. "Death from caffeine overdose is rare but can occur and is usually due to abnormal heart rhythms," says Dr. Miller.

"We absorb caffeine quickly and it gets processed in the liver," she explains. It takes four and a half hours for the body to metabolize half of the caffeine consumed, but this varies from person to person. "With higher doses, the metabolic process is saturated and so an overdose of caffeine will take longer for the body to clear."

While it is possible to overdose on caffeine, this is typically at doses above 400 milligrams, says Dr. Miller. Signs that someone is overdosing on caffeine include vomiting, high heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and low blood pressure.

If your teenager has symptoms including vomiting, high heart rate, abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, and low blood pressure after consuming caffeine, seek urgent medical assistance.

What Is Caffeine Withdrawal Syndrome?

Like any other drug, caffeine can cause physical dependence when taken regularly. "Once your body becomes accustomed to having caffeine on a regular basis, you can experience withdrawal symptoms if you miss a dose," warns Dr. Juliano.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood disturbances, and sometimes even flu-like symptoms like nausea and vomiting, she continues. For adults, 100 milligrams is enough to become dependent on caffeine. While caffeine withdrawal can be very mild for some people it can be extremely unpleasant for others. "There is a lot of variability in the severity of withdrawal from one person to the next," Dr. Juliano says.

Education surrounding the effects of caffeine withdrawal is important, says Dr. Juliano, who points out that the irregular availability of caffeine for teenagers may lead them to experience withdrawal symptoms without even realizing it.

"While many adults know that they need their morning coffee to avoid withdrawal, teens may not always make this connection," she explains. "That is why education about caffeine is important. It is best to avoid physical dependence by using only small amounts of caffeine once in a while."

How To Help Your Teenager Cut Back on Caffeine

If your teenager wants to reduce their caffeine intake, it's best to do so gradually. "A good first step is to change the timing of caffeine ingestion to earlier in the day, to help decrease any negative impacts on sleep," advises Dr. Miller. "Then, start a slow decrease. For example, decreasing by 50 milligrams of caffeine daily each week will help to avoid withdrawal symptoms."

Dr. Juliano then recommends that teenagers avoid consuming caffeine daily by switching to non-caffeinated and non-sugary beverages. "I often talk to my teen patients about caffeine being 'fake energy' and that the sources of actual energy are sleep and adequate nutrition," agrees Dr. Miller.

While encouraging your teenager to reduce their caffeine consumption is possible, education and prevention are preferable, says Dr. Juliano.

A Word From Verywell

Unless your teenager has underlying health issues or you know they are consuming an excessive amount of caffeine, there's little need to worry. However, as evidenced above, it is easy to exceed the recommended daily intake of caffeine—often without even realizing it—and that can have adverse effects on your teen’s health. 

If you have concerns, talk to your child about their caffeine consumption and point out how it may be affecting them. Armed with the knowledge of what caffeine is, where it can be found and what negative effects it can have on their health may help your child make informed choices about what they consume. 

12 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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