Caffeine consumption reaches dangerous levels
Students fuel up regularly on caffeinated beverages in the campus dining halls, including coffee
Coffee, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle, NOS. Students on the Hill are more than familiar with these names as they fuel themselves with caffeine in the wee hours of the night. But at what point does students’ occasional use of caffeine drinks turn into caffeine abuse?
There are several benefits to moderate caffeine consumption. According to WebMD.com, “caffeine is most commonly used to improve mental alertness, but it has many other uses. Caffeine is used…in combination with painkillers (such as aspirin and acetaminophen) and a chemical called ergotamine for treating migraine headaches. It is also used with painkillers for simple headaches and preventing and treating headaches after epidural anesthesia.”
Caffeine is also used to treat asthma, gallbladder disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and low blood pressure. While most students on campus don’t use caffeine for medical reasons, their motivations for ingesting the substance are varied.
Most students turn to caffeine because they want to boost their mental alertness. Many Mules start their days off with multiple cups of coffee; without this jolt of caffeine, they find it hard to focus throughout the day. “I drink a cup or two of coffee every morning to stay awake in class, even though I don’t like the taste of it,” JoJo Salay ’12 said.
In fact, coffee was the most popular form of caffeine among the students interviewed. Sophomore Caite Curcuruto said, “I have around two cups of coffee and caffeinated tea every morning, although I’ve become so used to it that it doesn’t make me stay awake anymore.”
So what is it about caffeine that energizes consumers? Caffeine sends a rush of adrenaline through the body, causing students to feel more focused and alert. Because they help combat drowsiness, caffeinated beverages are popular among students faced with long nights and early mornings.
Thus, a moderate consumption of caffeine actually has a positive effect on the body. According to About.com, anywhere up to 300 milligrams (roughly three cups of coffee) of caffeine a day is considered safe. When people begin to exceed this dosage, they can be considered caffeine addicts.
“I drink at least three cups of coffee a day,” Spencer Phillips ’12 said. While three cups a day is not that unusual, Phillips admits, “I get headaches if I don’t get enough coffee; sometimes I get the sweats.”
Phillips, who has been an avid coffee drinker since his sophomore year of high school, has grown dependent on caffeine’s effect on his body. “Caffeine will make you feel good, while also making you more alert. For people who have a difficult time staying awake or getting ready for work, drinking caffeine is a natural solution,” mycaffeineaddiction.com, a site dedicated to caffeine addiction, states. “But over time, this can begin to have many negative side effects on the body. Additionally, a caffeine high will only last for so long. Soon enough you are sure to come down from this high, and the result is one of extreme fatigue. For many caffeine addicts, the only way to beat this fatigue is to once again put more of this substance into their body.”
Many students testify to this fact, noting that over the years they have had to consume more and more caffeinated beverages to achieve the same state of euphoria and alertness. “I consume a very solid amount of caffeine through coffee and tea, but unfortunately it doesn’t do anything for me anymore; I can even nap immediately afterwards,” Maureen Quinn ’12 said.
Seniors Pat McBride and Tim Becker admit that they too drink coffee on a daily basis as well; however, they stress that it’s not always necessarily because they need the caffeine. While McBride confessed to having “four cups a day, sometimes up to six,” Becker said, “If I have a class before noon I’ll drink coffee with the intent of staying awake, but otherwise I enjoy coffee just for the taste and the warmth.”
However, some students’ consumption of caffeine goes beyond the occasional cup of coffee. “I know that I have a caffeine addiction,” Kristine Walters ’12 admitted. “During finals week, I’ve had up to eight cups of coffee in one day.”
Caffeine abuse can result in very serious health problems. According to mycaffeineaddiction.com, caffeine addicts may develop cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. They also run an increased risk of anxiety, insomnia and gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers.
Coffee is by no means the only form of caffeine that students on the Hill consume. Soft drinks and energy drinks are always available in vending machines across campus, attracting an array of students both daily and during exam periods.
“Super-caffeinated energy drinks, with names like Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle and Amp, have surged in popularity in the past decade,” according to an article in The New York Times. “About a third of 12- to 24-year-olds say they regularly down energy drinks, which account for more than $3 billion in annual sales in the United States.”
“I crush NOS, especially when I have a late night with homework or a heavy exam week,” Alex Hymanson ’12 said.
Although many publicity outlets have highlighted the health risks of energy drinks over the years, students on campus consume them anyway. They have become favorite alternatives for those who dislike coffee.
“I think it’s funny that there’s such a stigma against energy drinks, but people will drink multiple cups of coffee a day and not worry about it,” Maddie Bergier ’12 said.
Schools have faced several issues with energy drinks and students mixing the beverages with alcohol. The combination of caffeine with alcohol, one a stimulant and one a depressant, poses many health risks because it prevents the consumer from realizing how much alcohol they have ingested.
In that regard, the future of caffeinated beverages may already be upon students. A recent incident at Central Washington University involving Four Loko, a caffeinated malt liquor, saw nine first-years be sent to the hospital with blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent. Four Loko sells for around $2.50 and has an alcohol content of 12 percent.
To date, several states have banned the sale of this beverage. Although it hasn’t yet reached Maine, it’s only a matter of time before it catches on.