Caffeine use in children: What we know, what we have left to learn, and why we should worry

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Caffeine is a widely used psychoactive substance in both adults and children that is legal, easy to obtain, and socially acceptable to consume. Although once relatively restricted to use among adults, caffeine-containing drinks are now consumed regularly by children. In addition, some caffeine-containing beverages are specifically marketed to children as young as 4 years of age. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the effects of caffeine use on behavior and physiology of children remains understudied and poorly understood. The purpose of this article is to review what is known about caffeine use in children and adolescents, to discuss why children and adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of caffeine, and to propose how caffeine consumption within this population may potentiate the rewarding properties of other substances. The following topics are reviewed: (1) tolerance and addiction to caffeine, (2) sensitization and cross-sensitization to the effects of caffeine, (3) caffeine self-administration and reinforcing value, and (4) conditioning of preferences for caffeine-containing beverages in both adults and children.

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