Considering the dangers of caffeine addiction on college campuses
You wake up in a haze and the migraine immediately hits you. Dull aches and pains shoot down your body as you wrench and contort in pain. Empty soda cans and coffee cups litter your room. A combination of anxiety and sadness radiates throughout your body. You’re not withdrawing from any hard drugs, you’re withdrawing from caffeine.
Coffee, tea, Five Hour Energy and Coca-Cola all contain the stimulant drug caffeine. Caffeine, like other stimulants, boosts your energy and arouses the central nervous system. Caffeine can also detoxify the liver, help people combat sleep deprivation and increases physical stamina.
But caffeine also has many negative side effects. Caffeine is a diuretic because it causes the body to produce excess salt which increases urination. Caffeine also increases blood pressure, leading to health complications like excessive resting heart rate.
Consuming excess amounts of caffeine can have catastrophic effects on the human body. According to an article by Irish Independent News, Sinead Ryan drank the equivalent of forty cups of coffee and collapsed one day. First responders brought Ryan to the hospital where they asked if she was on any artificial stimulants. She experienced extreme heart palpitations and fatigue, to the point where her symptoms were so similar to that of narcotic stimulants that she was hooked up to a Holter monitor. This is a device that’s sometimes used in hospitals when someone’s heart palpitations won’t stop. Electrodes are attached to a person’s body that feedback to a small device. The recorder measures their heart rhythms and notifies doctors if they seem irregular. Holter monitors are typically used when people ingest large amounts of hard narcotics like meth and cocaine.
College campuses are a breeding ground for caffeine addiction. Coffee is ingrained in the college lifestyle. People meet for dates over it, use it to combat sleep deprivation and to wake up after nights partying and drinking with friends
Ray Deutsch is one of the many people in the United States that self-identifies as a caffeine addict. In the past, she dealt with caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal starts punishing its victims within 24 hours. It starts with disorientation, causing people to become extremely lethargic and fatigued. Extreme migraines and muscle pains are also common and typically follow the previous symptoms — similar to those found in the flu.
People suffering from this find sleeping nearly impossible, as their painful symptoms keeps them restless. Withdrawal from nicotine has similar effects. Because they are both stimulants, caffeine and nicotine users both experience anxiety, insomnia and headaches.
Ray Deutsch used caffeine to the point where it started to affect her eating habits. Deutsch experienced intense withdrawal symptoms when she didn’t consistently drink coffee.
“I had headaches,” Deutsch said. “I couldn’t focus as much. I just sometimes felt nauseous, or like, kinda like, I don’t know, I don’t know, maybe it affected my eating habits a little bit.”
Deutsch’s caffeine use started to affect her schoolwork. When she attempted to complete her assignments without caffeine in her system, all she could think about was drinking a cup of coffee. The continued use of coffee with schoolwork made her associate doing well on an assignment with drinking caffeine. Deutsch said that her cravings for the drug became so intense that she experienced anxiety and irritability when she didn’t have it frequently.
“I will just be thinking about coffee,” Deutsch said. “Okay, like, damn it I fucking want coffee.”
The United States is hooked on caffeine. Statistics from a Washington Post article stated that even preschoolers were ingesting caffeine. People aged 50 to 64 were consuming as much as 225.5 milligrams per day. Caffeine addiction is becoming relevant because people are dying from it. Caffeine overdoses have become such a problem in the US that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) actually launched an investigation on 13 people who were believed to have died from caffeine overdoses in 2012. The FDA eventually released a disturbing statement: “The difference between a safe amount and a toxic dose of caffeine in these pure powdered products is very small.” The FDA could not have been more accurate as it was reported that in between January and July there were 1,675 cases related to energy drinks alone. A majority of these cases involved children.
Energy drinks, another caffeine product, are disproportionately marketed toward adolescents than any other age group. A report in the US National Library of Medicine has found that drinking energy drinks in excess can result in insomnia, headaches and even seizures requiring medical attention.
One business that has allowed caffeine to become extremely accessible and popular is Starbucks. Starbucks has grown to have over 30,000 stores since the company was founded in 1971 out of Seattle. According to the website, World Atlas, Starbucks is currently the third largest fast food restaurant in America. Its main sellers are caffeinated beverages pumped full of artificial flavoring and sugars. Many of the people interviewed in this story frequent or have frequented Starbucks.
Chase Garvey, a former barista at Starbucks and college student, struggled with getting through workdays without caffeine
In order to get through long hours and schoolwork, Garvey drank excessive amounts of coffee. Sometimes he would be drink coffee without eating any meals. He also admitted to, at one point, having 11 or 12 shots of espresso during just one shift.
When asked whether or not he could make it through a shift without it, he answered that after consuming so much caffeine he could not finish a shift without some sort of caffeine.
When asked about Starbucks’ rising popularity, he spoke about the high volume of coffee chains in America.
“I mean, you go out, you see Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, Gimme Coffee, on, like, every corner and you think hey, might as well grab coffee,” Garvey said.
Big companies like Starbucks attract customers because they simply see their brand and logo everywhere. When consumers keep seeing the Starbucks logo the phrase “I need coffee,” plays in their head, as they associate the brand with caffeinated beverages.
Caffeine has its place in American culture, but the drug is evidently addictive. A double standard is created when a drug that has been proven addictive and, in some cases, harmful receives no regulation. The allowance of certain potentially harmful substances sets a bizarre precedent for American drug regulation. Battleface best illustrates the widespread existence of casual caffeine addiction in America in the headline of their article: “Coffee — The socially acceptable psychoactive drug”.
When problems like caffeine addiction and overdoses are ignored, it’s only natural to question why the government chooses to regulate only some substances and not others.
Drugs like alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are all legal in the US, but the United States continues to classify marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. Other supplements like kratom, a psychoactive substance legal for purchase at 18 in most American states, have received pushback with legality by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and FDA. The American legislation and mindset towards drugs are hypocritical and embodied in the casual dismissal of drugs like caffeine.
Christian Maitre is a sophomore journalism major who takes a shot of espresso every time someone says the word “coffee.” They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art by Adam Dee, Art Editor.