College Addictions: Caffeine

Many people use caffeine to power their day, found in coffee, energy drinks, or pills. University of Miami student Francis Carbone drinks his Starbucks coffee to amp his study session. STEVE ROOT // Hurricane Staff
Many people use caffeine to power their day, found in coffee, energy drinks, or pills. University of Miami student Francis Carbone drinks his Starbucks coffee to amp his study session. STEVE ROOT // Hurricane Staff

Just as plants need water and sunlight to survive, many college students depend on a resource of their own, claiming they would wilt like a flower without it: caffeine.

Caffeine is a central nervous system drug that acts as a stimulant in humans, temporarily alleviating drowsiness and fatigue while raising stamina and energy. Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can increase bodily actions such as heart rate, metabolism and blood pressure, as well as act as a diuretic – which causes the body to urinate more often. Caffeine – commonly found in many plants, including guarana, yerba maté, cacao and coffee plants – is used to create an all-too-familiar necessity for many individuals: a hot cup of joe.

Many college students consume products that contain caffeine to feel energized and to handle the weariness associated with long nights, sleep deprivation and burdensome academic assignments. Besides coffee, caffeinated products include energy drinks and shots, energy pills and popular soft drinks.

When consumed in moderation, caffeine is a safe stimulant and can even perform as a reliable fat burner. As of 2003, the Food and Drug Administration has categorized caffeine as a “Multiple Purpose Generally Recognized as Safe Food Substance.”

However, as Marc D. Gellman, the associate director of the Department of Psychology’s health program, notes, while he does not view caffeine as a dangerous drug, students abusing it are subject to dependency and a number of negative side effects.

“It’s a very, very popular substance,” Gellman said. “Three cups of coffee a day isn’t problematic. Five, six and seven cups a day, on a regular basis, will lead to what’s called caffeineism.”

“Caffeineism” is a term used to describe the withdrawal symptoms associated with ending coffee dependency. The jitteriness that is associated with people who have consumed large amounts of caffeine is one of the most common symptoms.

The Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center lists the most frequently seen symptoms of caffeine withdrawal as “headache, fatigue, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, anxiety, and the impairment of psychomotor, vigilance, cognitive performances.”

“I wouldn’t call it addiction. A more preferable way to call it is ‘caffeine dependence,'” Gellman said. “Withdrawal symptoms have to be more severe.”

Many college students use caffeinated products regularly to make it through a day of rigorous college activities. Stephen Pelliccia, a sophomore international studies and Spanish major from New Hampshire, is a moderate consumer of caffeine. He goes to the Starbucks by the Otto G. Richter Library frequently to endure his classes.

“I need coffee Tuesdays and Thursdays because I have a block of classes from five to nine,” he said, “If I don’t have my coffee at 4:30, I will fall asleep in my meteorology class.”

More frequent caffeine consumers such as Heather Gaines, a broadcast journalism and international studies major, are conscious of the fact that they need coffee to make it through their day. “It’s my drug of choice,” she said. “I drink it daily – at least three times daily.” She carriers a Starbucks double-shot espresso and cream can in her purse. “The people that work at Starbucks know me by name.”

Still, Gabriela Botifolli, a sophomore, despises the taste of coffee and would rather not resort to products with high levels of caffeine.

“I’d rather study all day and spend my weekend studying instead of staying up late and feeling tired,” she said. Gabriella is usually in bed by 10 p.m. to wake up early and feel energized.

Gellman stated that an alternative to consuming high levels of caffeine is to become involved with moderate exercise. “Exercise will be the healthiest antidote. It will give you more energy,” he said.

“People simply don’t see caffeine as a drug,” said Marlow Svatek, a sophomore who works at the Starbucks across US-1 from campus. “It’s definitely gotten worse for me since I started working there!”