Background and Aims Caffeinated soda contains two addictive substances, sugar and caffeine, and is the most preferred means of caffeine consumption among children. However, it remains unexplored if habitual caffeinated soda intake in childhood is associated with a higher risk of alcohol misuse in the future. Here, we investigated the neurocognitive correlates of caffeinated soda consumption and examined whether caffeinated soda intake is associated with a higher risk of alcohol initiation in children.
Methods Using the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, we first investigated the relationships between frequent caffeinated soda intake and well- known risk factors of substance misuse: impaired working memory, high impulsivity, and blunted reward processing. We next examined whether caffeinated soda intake predicts more alcohol sipping after 12 months, and whether caffeinated soda intake mediates the link between neurocognitive risk factors and future alcohol sipping.
Results Frequent consumption of caffeinated soda was associated with neurocognitive risk factors for substance misuse. Daily soda intake was associated with hyperactivity in the striatal and parietal regions and hypoactivity in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) during the emotional N-Back Task. In addition, the striatum, IFG, and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) showed aberrant activity during the stop signal task, and the medial prefrontal cortex and the ACC exhibited increased and decreased activity, respectively, during the monetary incentive delay task. Furthermore, caffeinated soda intake predicted greater alcohol sipping after 12 months, and mediated the relationship between impulsivity and future alcohol sipping.
Conclusions This study addresses the question that many parents are asking: “Is frequent caffeinated soda intake in childhood associated with a higher risk of substance misuse in the future?” We showed that caffeinated soda consumption in childhood was associated with impaired neurocognitive functioning and may predict future alcohol intake, which has significant public health implications.