Caffeinated Soda Intake in Children Is Associated with Neurobehavioral Risk Factors for Substance Misuse

Kwon, M., Kim, H., Yang, J., Lee, Y., Hur, J. K., Lee, T.-H., Bjork, J. M., & Ahn, W.-Y. 2023. Substance Use & Misuse


Background and Objectives Use of psychotropic substances in childhood has been associated with both impulsivity and other manifestations of poor executive function as well as escalation over time to use of progressively stronger substances. However, how this relationship may start in earlier childhood has not been well explored. Here, we investigated the neurobehavioral correlates of daily caffeinated soda consumption in preadolescent children and examined whether caffeinated soda intake is associated with a higher risk of subsequent alcohol initiation.

Methods Using Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study data (N=2,092), we first investigated cross-sectional relationships between frequent caffeinated soda intake and well-known risk factors of substance misuse: impaired working memory, high impulsivity, and aberrant reward processing. We then examined whether caffeinated soda intake at baseline predicts more alcohol sipping at 12months follow-up using a machine learning algorithm.

Results Daily consumption of caffeinated soda was cross-sectionally associated with neurobehavioral risk factors for substance misuse such as higher impulsivity scores and lower working memory performance. Furthermore, caffeinated soda intake predicted a 2.04 times greater likelihood of alcohol sipping after 12months, even after controlling for rates of baseline alcohol sipping rates.

Conclusions These findings suggest that previous linkages between caffeine and substance use in adolescence also extend to younger initiation, and may stem from core neurocognitive features thought conducive to substance initiation.