As a hangover cure, a way to stay awake during an 8 a.m. lecture or a key ingredient to pulling an all night study session, caffeine is a staple in many college students’ diets. However, like with any substance, too much can cause more harm than good.
When the word “drug” is used, caffeine is probably one of the last substances people think of. After all, it’s legal and in many products used around the world. For some, it’s the first thing they put in their body every morning. However, caffeine is a drug which can alter the brain and in many cases become addictive.
A study conducted by the University of Kentucky found 78 percent of college freshmen consumed more than the recommended amount of caffeine in a day which is 0.014 ounces.
Former science reporter for the Smithsonian Joseph Stromberg wrote there are chemical changes that happen to the brain when consuming large quantities of caffeine.
“The most notable change is that brain cells grow more adenosine receptors, which is the brain’s attempt to maintain equilibrium in the face of a constant onslaught of caffeine,” Stromberg said in a 2013 article he wrote for the museum’s website.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter, which is kind of like a cell phone in the body. When one nerve gets a signal, it uses a neurotransmitter to send it to another cell and so on. Adenosine, when it pairs up with its transmitter, makes a person drowsy. So when someone drinks a large amount of caffeine, their brain creates more receptors, which means the person’s body needs more caffeine to feel awake. Thus a cycle begins.
“I started drinking black tea in sixth grade,” sophomore Samantha Pesquiera said. “And I’ve been drinking coffee for years. I have to have a cup of coffee everyday or I get a headache.”
Since starting college, Pesquiera upped her coffee intake to at least two cups a day.
Pesquiera’s headache is one of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Other symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, depressed mood, tremors, difficulty concentrating and irritability.
Some of these symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating, make college a harder experience. With depression and suicide rates on the rise among college students already, adding depressed moods from caffeine withdrawals could lead to insomnia, which could be caused by a late afternoon coffee break, causing one to consume more coffee to wake up in the morning.
Northwest is no exception to the dangers of caffeine addiction. Looking at the vending machines around campus, there are 12 types of caffeinated beverages. With options ranging from Kickstart to Pepsi, there aren’t too many limits. This doesn’t touch on the long, 7:30 a.m. line at Starbucks during finals week or Einstein Brother’s on Free Bagel Friday.
In Maryville, there are five main places for caffeine, mainly coffee, to choose from: Scooters, Starbucks, Einsteins Brothers, the Union and the Board Game Cafe. This doesn’t even begin to count the Keurigs and coffee pots nestled in dorms, kitchens and workspaces.
“I go to Starbucks about three times a week,” sophomore Brett Demeyer said. “I also have a Keurig in my room and make coffee for myself.”
While there are many real dangers of consuming too much caffeine, there are some inflated stories. There are stories where it appears someone died of a caffeine overdose, like the case of 16-year-old Davis Cripe in April 2017, but there are usually underlying heart problems.
Dr. Thomas Sweeney told Forbes he didn’t know any stories of someone actually dying from caffeinated beverages, but drinking too much raises a person’s risk of cardiac arrest.
According to a study conducted in 1997, most people didn’t have any problems if they drank less than five cups of coffee, but consuming more than 0.024 ounces in a day raised the risk of cardiac arrest by 44 percent.
Caffeine comes in many forms other than coffee and tea. Most sodas contain roughly 0.001 ounce of caffeine and a Hershey’s chocolate bar contains 0.0003 ounce. While looking at the numbers, it may not seem like there is much, but the body doesn’t need much before it becomes too much. If not conscious of how much is in their diet, a person could easily be going over the recommended amount.
However, despite how college students seem to be overdosing themselves, it is possible to recover in a timely manner. It takes seven to 12 days of withdrawals to kick the habit. Compared to other addictions, this is a quick turn around for the body.
While cutting caffeine from a diet completely is unreasonable for most students, there is a real need to decrease the amount of Starbucks breaks being taken.
Caffeine is a cornerstone of campus culture, but the addiction can last beyond graduation day.