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Drinking Habits

What Is the Link Between Caffeinated Soda Consumption and Alcohol Sipping in Children?

June 1, 2024
20 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Giving Children Caffeinated Soda Consumption Can Lead to Alcohol Sipping

  • Alcohol sipping refers to when a child gets a sip of alcohol, either without permission or because it was offered to them. Studies have found a direct link between caffeinated soda consumption and the likelihood of alcohol sipping in children.
  • Keep children safe by limiting their caffeine intake, supervising alcoholic beverages in the home, and setting an example for a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Prioritize your children’s long-term safety by staying informed of the dangers of alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and other addictive substances. Reframe can equip you with the information you need to make healthy choices for your whole family. 

It’s the holidays, and your whole family is over for a big fancy shindig just like they come every year. You’ve prepared fresh platters of snacks, put out some booze for the grown-ups, and soda for the kids. Suddenly, you see your cousin give his daughter a sip of his beer. You may be wondering, “Is that safe? I put soda out for the kids!” You’d be correct in thinking that the sip of beer is not a good idea for a child, but as we’ll come to learn in a bit, neither is the soda. What do soda and alcohol sipping have to do with each other? Let’s explore this connection and examine ways to keep us and our children safe.

Overview of Caffeinated Soda

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Most sodas have caffeine in them, but they vary in how much. Some common caffeinated sodas consumed in the US are Coke and Pepsi, but actually, many sodas have even more caffeine than Coke. For example, most Mountain Dew drinks contain more caffeine than Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper. 

In addition to caffeine, soft drinks also contain high amounts of sugar. We may have heard about caffeine addiction, but did you know that sugar is also addictive? One study showed that sugar is actually more addictive than some drugs like cocaine and heroin, which is a double whammy in terms of soda’s addictive properties. But we’ll get into sugar a bit more later. For now, let’s look at what happens when we drink caffeine.

Health Effects of Caffeinated Soda

What happens when a child drinks soft drinks with caffeine? According to one study, there is no “safe” amount of caffeine a child can drink, similar to how there is no “safe” amount of alcohol for an adult (or a child, for that matter, but we’ll get into that later). When kids consume caffeine, its side effects are multiplied. Just think about it: you may get the jitters after drinking a cup of joe. Now imagine those jitters in a body much smaller and less developed than yours. Caffeine can have many adverse effects on children:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach
  • Arrhythmias
  • Problems with memory
  • Increased risk-taking behavior

In addition to that, when children regularly consume caffeine, it disrupts their emotions, which is extra bad for kids since their emotional development isn’t complete yet. And since caffeine is addictive (as many of us with that Monday morning desperation for espresso may know), it can cause unwanted effects in children such as cravings or withdrawals. Not to mention soda’s high sugar content, which can lead to obesity, tooth decay, and type 2 diabetes.

How Much Soda Are Kids Drinking?

The CDC reports that 73% of children and young adults in the US drink caffeine daily, mostly in the form of caffeinated sodas. The participants in the report ranged in age from two to 22 years old. That’s a lot of soda! Let’s take a look at why children and young adults are drinking so much soda.

What Influences Soda Consumption in Children?

Why do kids drink soda? Perhaps they’re at the mall with friends and want something refreshing. Or perhaps there’s a six-pack of Colas in the fridge at all times. While some studies suggest that parental attitudes towards soda may have an influence, another study, focusing specifically on caffeinated sugary beverages, showed that parental attitudes toward consumption have more to do with family eating habits than parental attitudes about soda specifically. The bottom line is, that the best way to stop children from consuming soda, be it caffeinated or not, is to modify the family eating habits and shift cultural norms related to soda consumption.

So we know caffeinated soda is bad for kids, but what does this have to do with our cousin from the party giving his kid a sip of beer? Well, to understand that, we first need to talk about alcohol sipping in children.

Overview of Alcohol Sipping

Alcohol sipping refers to when a child has a taste or sip of alcohol. The “sip” can either be given (for example a parent letting their child have a taste), or taken without permission (sneaking a sip of booze from mom’s glass). Alcohol sipping almost always takes place in a family setting. The most commonly reported is a sip of beer, usually provided by the child’s father. But how common is this? Alcohol sipping in children is under-researched, but one study showed that in a group of children ages eight to ten, between 20 and 50% reported alcohol sipping.

But why do parents let their children sip? Some cultures and parents are more open to alcohol consumption among younger people. Many of them think exposing it to them while they’re young will make them less likely to drink in the future. They might also think it will help their children refuse peer pressure. Unfortunately, these parents are doing more harm than good.

Dangers of Alcohol Sipping

A sip might not seem like a lot, but it can lead to bad habits and behaviors when given to children. Let’s look at some of the ways it can harm children’s health:

  • Seeing alcohol in a more favorable light. Children who sip alcohol are more likely to develop “positive” associations with alcohol than those who don’t. For example, thinking it makes people “have fun” or “relax.”
  • Increased likelihood of drinking heavily later in life. Children who sip alcohol are much more likely to drink heavily later in life than those who don’t. Children may think that alcohol is not so bad if their parents are giving it to them, making them think they can consume more of it later without any consequences.
  • Increased risk of risky behaviors. Children who consume alcohol are more likely than those who don’t to engage in risky or violent behaviors. They are more likely to consume other drugs as well.
  • Physical effects. Children’s brains and bodies aren’t fully developed yet, and consuming alcohol at a young age — even just a sip — can damage the liver, brain, and other organs.
  • A sign of adverse childhood experiences. One study found a direct link between alcohol sipping and adverse childhood experiences, with more adverse experiences putting the child more at risk for alcohol sipping. If a child is sipping alcohol, it could be a sign that something isn’t right or they feel unsafe.

If caffeine and sugar are addictive, and alcohol is also addictive, is there a connection here? New research has surfaced that says yes — if children regularly drink caffeinated sodas, they are more likely to consume alcohol, particularly in the form of alcohol sipping.

The Connection Between Caffeinated Drinks and Alcohol Sipping

We’ve talked now about caffeinated soda and alcohol sipping, but why are we talking about them together? Can drinking soda lead to alcohol sipping? Well, new research shows that it can.

Caffeinated Soda and Alcohol

One study examined this link in-depth, looking specifically at caffeinated soda consumption in children and their likelihood to sip alcohol. The children were all nine and ten years old and lived in different parts of the US. They used various scales and scanners to measure the relationship between how much soda they drank and risk factors for substance misuse (which we’ll get into later). They then used an algorithm to predict how likely these children were to sip alcohol.

They found that children who consumed caffeinated soda daily were twice as likely to try a sip of alcohol within 12 months, either from sneaking a drink or accepting a sip that was offered to them. This is because caffeinated soda directly impacts the brain and increases the likelihood that the child will develop risk factors for substance abuse:

  • Problems with working memory
  • Impulsivity
  • Impaired reward processing in the brain

These behaviors develop from soda intake but can easily be transferred to other substances and increase the likelihood of alcohol sipping. This leads to all the nasty consequences of alcohol sipping, namely increased likelihood of substance abuse in the future. And when we talk about the “future” in child terms, it could even be as young as 12 according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. This results in more problems such as underage drinking and reckless behavior.

Before you point your finger at soda alone, remember that caffeine is also present in energy drinks. 

Caffeinated Energy Drinks and Alcohol

Energy drinks typically contain around 74mg of caffeine (compared to a shot of espresso with 64mg), plus other artificial chemicals and sweeteners that add to their negative effects. According to a study done on teenagers, there is a link between energy drink consumption and alcohol consumption, particularly in the context of binge drinking, with those who drink energy drinks regularly being more likely to abuse alcohol as they get older.

Sugar and Alcohol: A Combo To Keep in Mind

What’s something soda, energy drinks, and a donut have in common? The answer is sugar. We know soda and energy drinks can lead to alcohol sipping and alcohol misuse, but does it have to do with the sugar?

One study found that a preference for sugary foods was prevalent among alcohol-dependent people. While it’s known that alcohol can cause sugar cravings, it could also go the other way. Sugar causes dopamine release in the brain, just like alcohol does. Having too much dopamine can cause dependence on either substance, and mixing the two only makes this worse. The same concept goes for caffeine and alcohol. Moreover, sugar causes a spike in glucose levels in the blood (blood sugar), which is one factor that can lead to heavy alcohol consumption.

Given that most children are exposed to sugar before alcohol, we should be aware of these consequences and limit their sugar intake to reduce the risk of alcohol sipping and improve overall health.

Soda vs. Alcohol: Which One Is Worse?

We’ve torn both soda and alcohol to shreds, but which one deserves a medal for most unhealthy? Well, alcohol still wins that, especially in the context of children. While both drinks have negative health consequences, alcohol should not be consumed by children no matter how small of an amount, and soda should be consumed mindfully and in moderation.

Safety Measures and Prevention Techniques for Alcohol Sipping

Protective Measures and Prevention Strategies

After all this information, what can we do to keep our children safe from both alcohol sipping and other health problems caused by caffeinated beverages? Let’s take a look:

  • Avoid alcohol at home. The best way to prevent kids from sipping alcohol at home is to keep it put away where kids won’t be able to get to it (that’s right, we’re talking about locking up the liquor cabinet). That way, kids won’t be able to sip at home.
  • Supervise closely. If you do have booze around at that family get-together where kids are present, keep your eye on it, and make sure the other adults around do the same.
  • Try kid-friendly alternatives. Prepare some kid-friendly drinks that have no caffeine as an alternative to soda. Mix fresh fruit juice with club soda for the same sweet refreshing experience.
  • Limit children’s intake of caffeinated beverages. Nix the soda on a school night, or indulge once a week on the weekend. Reducing (or better yet, eliminating) children’s soda consumption will benefit their brains and cognitive development, and will help them maintain a healthy weight.
  • Educate parents and children about substance abuse. Knowing the triggers of potential substance misuse in the future is the first step to educating your children about what they’re consuming and the dangers it poses.
  • Promote healthier dietary and lifestyle choices. Encouraging kids to get active and make healthy lifestyle choices from a young age will only help them as they get older, and it’s never too soon to start. Promoting healthy eating habits could also reduce the likelihood of drinking soda.

Some Final Thoughts To Sip On

Caffeinated sodas may seem “safer” than alcohol, and in some ways they are. It’s important to remember, however, that any addictive substance has the potential to lead to misuse, and sugar is still an addictive substance. It’s important to be mindful of what we consume no matter what it is. Alcohol and soda are dangerous if consumed too much. Being mindful of everything we put in our body will help us stay healthier.

Summary FAQs

1. What's worse, alcohol or soda?

While both substances have detrimental health effects, alcohol is worse for our health, as the body sees it as a poison.

2. What happens when a child drinks soft drinks?

Most soft drinks contain caffeine, which can make children hyperactive and moody.

3. What is alcohol sipping?

Alcohol sipping refers to when a child takes a sip of alcohol, usually because they were offered it in a family setting.

4. Does drinking soda lead to alcohol sipping?

According to a new study, drinking soda every day increases the likelihood a child will sip alcohol within one year.

5. How can I stop my child from sipping alcohol?

Keep them away from booze, especially at home, and limit their soda intake and other sugary or caffeinated beverages.

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