Will drinking milk tea become addictive?


Have you had milk tea today? Do you feel anxious after not drinking for a while? Some time ago, scholars from Tsinghua University and Central University of Finance and Economics conducted a unique "milk tea addiction" survey on more than 4,000 Chinese college students, and the results were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The study found that nearly 5 adults among Beijing college students surveyed drank milk tea at least once a week, and more than 5% drank 4 cups or more of milk tea per week. The higher the addiction to milk tea, the more likely it is that depression, The risk of adverse psychological states such as anxiety and suicidal ideation is also greater.

In China, milk tea is more popular among teenagers than coffee. Relevant data shows that as of the end of 2022, there were approximately 486,000 milk tea shops in China; 83% of customers drink 5 to 14 cups of milk tea per month, and teenagers account for 58% of total consumers, 70% of whom are women.

As the market value of milk tea continues to rise, the term milk tea is no longer representative of those beverages that include "milk and tea". Since "milk tea + other tea drinks" have become the mainstream trend in the domestic market, this study classifies all "new tea drinks" sold in milk tea shops, such as milk tea, fruit tea, scented tea, pearl milk tea, etc., as milk tea.

Unlike other sugary drinks, milk tea generally contains higher amounts of caffeine in addition to its higher sugar content. Previous studies have found that sugary drinks are linked to mental health in teenagers, and that high-caffeine sugary drinks may lead to addiction symptoms such as craving, loss of control, tolerance and withdrawal. Therefore, researchers believe that although milk tea addiction is not a formally defined mental illness, it is gradually becoming a major public health issue that needs attention.

Among college students surveyed, 77% drink milk tea, 46.3% drink milk tea at least once a week, more than 30% of the respondents drink milk tea 2 to 3 times a month, and 5.4% drink milk tea every week The frequency of drinking milk tea reaches 4 times or more. Notably, women and younger groups showed higher levels of milk tea addiction.

Worryingly, researchers also observed that milk tea addiction is positively correlated with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation; further statistical analysis found that milk tea intake is a positive correlation between loneliness and depression, anxiety, and suicide. The mediating variable of ideas. This once again proves the link between milk tea addiction and poor mental health.

Why does milk tea affect our mood? Researchers provide a possible explanation: The large amount of sugar in milk tea will increase cortisol levels in the body, which in turn leads to the disorder of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the main hormone system responsible for stress regulation in our body. When this system's response to stress is altered, it can affect an individual's emotional and behavioral regulation, leading to an increase in depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

In fact, some Chinese scholars once tried to make mice drink milk tea for a long time. They found that milk tea caused anxiety and depression-like behaviors in mice and impaired cognitive function, but the mice were not addicted. The researchers pointed out that this may be because the mice lack a psychological mechanism-compensation theory.

According to compensation theory in psychology, when individuals experience higher levels of stress, they may be motivated to engage in certain behaviors to escape real problems and reduce negative emotions, which may lead to adverse consequences. For example, whenever young people feel lonely, they may turn to milk tea as an accessible and affordable way to relieve their negative emotions. In addition, smartphone addiction, social media addiction, drug addiction, and food addiction have all been shown to be compensatory behaviors for loneliness.

In addition, adolescence is a sensitive stage of development, and risk-taking and novelty-seeking behaviors are the main characteristics of this stage, which is related to the changes in reward-related brain areas in the adolescent brain. Adolescents' increased sensitivity to material rewards and reduced susceptibility to the resulting adverse reactions may make them more susceptible to milk tea addiction.

The authors suggest that policymakers should consider developing regulations for the milk tea industry to address these issues. For example, promotion of milk tea to adolescents should be restricted and psychoeducational programs on the harmful effects of milk tea addiction on mental health should be provided. Additionally, establishing food hygiene standards for milk tea ingredients is important to address potential physical health issues such as obesity, dental caries, and caffeine-related effects. In addition, efforts to prevent milk tea addiction and promote mental health should focus on improving adolescents' interpersonal relationships and emotional regulation abilities.

However, the author of the paper also stated that although this study is the first to explore the addictiveness of milk tea, it is still a correlational study and cannot be used to determine the causal relationship between milk tea addiction and poor mental health. In addition, various factors such as material living standards and personal preference for sugary or caffeinated drinks may also affect the survey results. Most importantly, milk tea addiction is currently poorly defined and the findings should be interpreted with caution.