Caffeine — the new gateway drug?

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I fear that my 16-year-old daughter is an addict.

It’s caffeine.

From the omnipresent latte cup in her hand to the spent bottles of ice tea drinks I find in her book bags, the black devil has gotten its stimulating hooks into her.

She denies it, saying, “I can stop anytime.” She ignores my pleas — “It’s not a problem.”

She rejects all reason — “It doesn’t affect me.”

I don’t believe her.

Last Sunday morning, at 10:30 am, she stumbled into the kitchen and the first words out of her mouth were, “Is there coffee?” She can barely make it to school on time, but she’ll be at Starbucks before an early softball practice just to grab a grande to make it through the morning. I don’t approve of her habit.

In my mind, at her age, coffee is a gateway drug. It may not be so bad itself, but it could well lead to worse things. I fear that the lesson she’ll learn is that if a cup of joe can make you feel better, why not try Oxycodone, or Ecstacy, or methamphetamines?

After all, it’s the same thing: taking something to adjust your mood and energy, to do better in sports or on a test. Who cares whether it’s in liquid or pill form? And from there, why not cocaine, heroin, anything to smooth out life’s dips and bumps, to speed you up the hills and over the obstacles?

I won’t buy or brew her coffee. I won’t participate in the procurement of her fix. But she’s 16, and I’m not with her much any more. She has her own money. How should I handle this? Have her followed? Require daily urine samples and dock her allowance if they come back positive for caffeine? Ground her? Aversion therapy? Send her to boot camp in a desert somewhere? Military school?

Of course, I’m hampered by my own hypocrisy and cultural indifference. My wife and I have coffee everyday, a few cups before the kids are even out of bed or the dog is walked. I certainly won’t give it up. I depend on that morning pick-me-up to get me going, that after-lunch mug of java to help me through the afternoon lull. My habit hasn’t led me to rehab.

Also, there’s no minimum age to purchase Ethiopian dark roast or Colombian breakfast blend. Can you imagine someone at Connecticut Muffin asking for ID? Can you picture Dunkin Donuts or D’Amico’s turning a young customer away if he or she asked for a cup with a muffin?

I try to give my teenager the message, let your body do its job. No ibuprofen unless your fever is over 102 degrees. If you’re tired, sleep more.

This message often gets lost in her busy schedule. If she’s up until 1 am finishing homework and has an early dance rehearsal the next morning, her weary bod is an obstacle, so why discourage her from that warm cup of energy from the corner cart? If her school work is fine, if she’s present for her activities, if she’s not stumbling home on the weekends from late night parties, then what’s wrong with her doing the java jive?

That’s the dilemma — nothing is wrong until it is, and then I’m too late.

So I’m going to stand my ground with caffeine. I may not keep her from imbibing, but I will keep her thinking about the issues: What does it mean to use something to change your mood? To give you more energy? Why is one thing all right and another not?

I hope it’s enough.

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Reader Feedback

Adult Living In from Park Slope says:
Coffee as a gateway drug? Your kidding me? I didn't start to drink coffee I was an adult but I did get buzzed long before that. But that was the 70's (before NYC became politically correct) and somehow I evolved into a responsible adult and a parent of two pretty good young adults. Believe me, there will be a lot of other issues to worry about other than coffee.
March 21, 2011, 9:39 am
OhioOrrin from W'burg says:
caffeine is NOT banned by the NCAA for student-athletes & my daughter says many of her Vball team mates drink it before matches. also caffeine helps reduce migraines which some girls suffer around their period.
March 21, 2011, 9:47 am
Sarah from Park Slope says:
I understand where the author is coming from, but she should be more worried about drugs that real doctors, who can sometimes behave like legalized drug-pushers, prescribe to teenagers as "medication." For example: Adderal & Synthroid, commonly used to treat A.D.D. and thyroid problems, is an amphetamine, highly addictive, and leads to bone-density issues; even common antibiotics, which were prescribed to me when I was a teenager for acne, coupled with a diet high in sugar, can (& did for me) lead to systemic yeast. If your daughter is addicted to sugar and caffeine, she is not getting a balanced diet, and that's what you need to look at. Eating a diet high in protein, good fats, plenty of fiber, fruits and vegetables, will satisfy her appetite, balance the liver, and her blood sugar, and minimize her cravings for quick-fix energy, like caffeine, sugar, nicotine. Good luck!
March 21, 2011, 10:16 am
Jeanette Grayeb-Mihal from Bay Ridge says:
While I understand your concerns about caffeine, I think you're overreacting to your daughter becoming addicted. I see nothing wrong with a teen-ager drinking coffee in the morning? If she loves coffee as you say she does, banning her from drinking it at home makes no sense. At least at home you can monitor her intake. The kids live in Starbucks - it's the latest rage.
A friendly discussion about the hazards of too much caffeine rather than banning it entirely will work better than insisting that she not drink coffee. Worry about the big stuff, not the little stuff.
March 21, 2011, 10:19 am
Cynthia from Clinton Hill says:
I think kids now a days are looking to get high. what are they snorting coffee grounds? i dont know, or if drinking alot of coffeee or some type of beverage with caffeine like redbull etc will give you a massive buzz? Mom cant put her in rehab because they dont have rehabs for that cause, well daughter is gonna have to deal with it like all the slobs out there.
March 21, 2011, 11:36 am
Matt from Monkey Balls Park says:
This guy is just looking for SE traffic, and he's going to get it. I should really close this article and not leave a comment, keep my dignity intact. But, here I am, reading the entire stupid article, pressing submit.
March 21, 2011, 12:08 pm
Frank from Mill Basin says:
@Matt, don't read the article, just read the headline and leave a comment.

coffee - it's better than Red Bull or coke (diabetes) or diet coke (cancer) and you can make it at home instead of buying the multi-national conglomerate product.
March 21, 2011, 1:51 pm
Dave from Downtown says:
wow... have the readers of this paper have no sense of humor? Isn't the writer just trying to use humor to make a point that its good to teach mindfulness about what we consume and why? I think all of you who are so incensed by the article, probably need to drink a little less coffee and take a chill pill!
March 21, 2011, 3:40 pm
Joebk from beautiful midwood says:
My mom started me out of hot cocoa. Now its all coffee that's all i need. and I'm fine I never moved on to crystal meth, so its all good
March 21, 2011, 7:45 pm
Wendy from Pk SLope says:
Why is it that people are so quick to defend legal drugs? I watch people buying those little bottles of pure caffeine that they sell now -even in hardware stores!Peopel line up out the door at Starbucks in the morning-the ultimate pusher! Is it crack, of course not. But its a drug and its addictive.
March 21, 2011, 7:51 pm
Victor from Victoria says:
Replace caffeine/coffee with nicotine/cigarettes and you have a column that could have appeared in the 1930s.

Abuse your organs, and then blame the evil advertisers in a few decades!
March 22, 2011, 1:44 am
Investigative Reporter from Fort Greene says:
It's true. See video here:
March 22, 2011, 9:36 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Wow... ok old guy (I can't imagine the author of this is under 50), you really are the one with the problem. In a single column, you first denounce caffeine, admit to depending on it, and then hit the crux of your problem in that you trust yourself to know the difference between coffee and HEROINE, but you don't trust your 16 year old. How insulting must it be to be treated in such a way? No wonder your kid avoids spending time with you, you'll always think she has the intelligence of a 3 year old. It's not the caffeine you are afraid of, it's TRUSTING YOUR CHILD to tell the difference between a latte and angel dust, which is something that you will obviously never do. What's your next piece? An article on how Atari's Packman has contributed to obesity in America, dedicated to Jack Thompson? MY god, you fail as a parent and I sincerely hope your child can escape your patronizing demotive thoughts as soon as they can!
March 22, 2011, 7:05 pm
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
and another thing, you say that if your child is "tired" they should "Sleep more" but mention school and dance lessons and socializing and how many other activities you push her into outside of what would be a normal work schedule? And then you just say "sleep more"... the more I think about it, the more I can only think you belong in the 1970's with the dinosaurs.
March 22, 2011, 7:07 pm
Teen from Brooklyn says:
Jim, you're an a**hole
March 22, 2011, 10:50 pm
15 from brooklyn says:
some of these comments are ridiculous. Clearly he does not think that his daughter will confuse caffeine with heroin, so lets stop making stupid assumptions, shall we? also, i'm pretty sure he trusts he daughter, he just doesn't APPROVE of her coffee addiction, and therefore doesn't want to promote it. It's not like it's safer to drink coffee in the house vs. out of it, because it doesn't impair dexterity or anything like that in the same way that harmful drugs do, or alcohol does.

also, caffeine dehydrates you, so it would be seriously idiotic to drink caffeine before games and meets and such.

also, one cup of coffee a day is not comparable to living on caffeine, or abusing legal OR illegal drugs. Clearly that juxtaposition is what the author was going for, and he's obviously just concerned for his daughter's well being. I am offended for all parents when someone says that this man doesn't trust his child; comparing two addictive substances doesn't make them interchangeable to anyone, except perhaps jim, who clearly cannot tell the difference between "angel dust" (term from the 70's, by the way) and a latte.

why don't people stop insulting the parenting of this man based on one article that they may have disagreed with.

I agree with Dave, have you no sense of humor? He's just trying to help his daughter be aware of what she consumes. Didn't your parents ever teach you if you don't have something nice to say don't say anything?

p.s. it offends me that you hope, because of this one article, that his kids "get away" from him. Thats insane and ridiculous. he's trying to stop his daughter from having a little caffeine, not beating her or abusing her. It disgusts me that you would write something that mean on this.
March 22, 2011, 11:08 pm
I. M. Feddup from Brooklyn says:
why would you even mention prescription drugs? What in this article made you think his daughter has ADD, and is it any of your business to be giving him parenting advice when he's clearly doing a better job than you!?

Why don't you worry about your own lives.
March 22, 2011, 11:13 pm
Cynthia from Clinton Hill says:
Blah who cares let her drink up. its obvious she know whats shes doing to herself. its falls down to self awareness. mom cant do anything about it, cuz shes going to get it no matter what, so whats the point to this article?
March 23, 2011, 4:08 am
The Voice in Your Head from Marcy Houses says:
You might want to look into aderrall. Or ice, glass, crank or pretty much any member of the meth family. In the right dosage, she will be able to get her work done, attend her recital, finish sports and homework, then have time to varnish your furniture and retile the bathroom.
March 23, 2011, 6:10 pm
Emily from Brooklyn says:
March 24, 2011, 11:16 pm
Richard from London, UK says:
A perspective from across the pond.

Dear sir,

I understand your concern entirely that your daughter is drinking too much coffee.

However, I have to say whilst there are of course cogent links between the onset of addictive behaviours and the adoption of new ones, I really wouldn't worry about her becoming a drug addict based upon her caffeine consumption alone.

In order to discourage this behaviour I would merely ignore it, as any drug will inevitably be more attractive with parental disapproval as a marketing slogan.

I'm sure she shall be fine.

Yours sincerely

Richard W. Jacquard
March 25, 2011, 6:57 am
Sarah says:
To "The Voice in Your Head from Marcy Houses says:" Oh my god you made me laugh out loud.
March 31, 2011, 5:52 pm
Ghosty from Hindsight says:
Yeah, looking back at this after reading the comments, I'd have to agree that the article is just a tongue-in-cheek way of reminding people that any useful drug in not necessarily the best option in all applicable cases. That is to say, take less shortcuts.

And to the commentors: Remember to ask yourselves the three essential questions of netiquette: Does this /need/ to be said? Does this need to be said /by me/? and Does this need to be said by me /right now/?
July 30, 2011, 1:03 pm
Mohamed B. from Somewhere in Florida says:
It got a little crazy in the middle with the whole "gateway drug" thing-trust me ma'am, that'll never happen. But I understand what you were worried about. If she can't stay awake at 16 withlut the brew, that could be a problem. Tell her to try decaf once in a while, and dont take out out of proportion. Caffeine is not a gateway drug. But make sure she stays away from energy drinks-that could be bad for her big time with the amount of caffeine she drinks now (assuming you're not over-exaggerating)

By the way, I'm 19, started drinking coffee at 16, and limit myself to no more than twice a week, cause I don' drink it for energy. I hate coffe rushes; makes me jittery.

I hope this helps, and you read it.
Nov. 8, 2011, 11:16 pm

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