Caught up in caffeine

Anna Duszkiewicz

A few cups of coffee may seem innocent enough, but addiction is possible

Photo by Caitlin Prarat

Credit: Ron Soltys

Sleep: It’s often seen as overrated in the college world. Whether it’s cramming for an exam, working the graveyard shift or staying awake in class after a night of fun, sleep doesn’t figure very well into the stereotypical college equation. The night owl’s best friend, caffeine, seems a better fit.

However, caffeine abuse can lead to addiction — a syndrome that is becoming more common.

“I’m addicted to coffee!” Andrea Kovatch, a senior integrated health studies major, said.

She attributes her caffeine dependency to her busy schedule.

“A lot of times I go from 7:45 in the morning until like 10 or 11 at night,” she said.

Kovatch said she drinks coffee every day because she knows her body is dependent on it.

“I don’t like being dependent on it; it’s not fun,” she said. “I could get off of it any time I want, but I just keep having these schedules and keep on having to take it.”

In spite of this, Kovatch said caffeine has benefits. “It gives you an unnatural awake feeling; that’s very helpful sometimes when you can’t muster it up yourself,” she said. “It helps if you’re studying or just have a really long day. You can keep going when your body otherwise would not.”

Stimulation vs. sleep

“Caffeine is a natural stimulant,” said Rose Ann Chiurazzi, registered dietitian for the nutrition program at the department of recreational services. “If it’s a small enough dose, it can actually help improve concentration and endurance,” she said.

An occasional energy boost may not do much harm, but how much is too much? Chiurazzi said it depends on the individual, but most people experience negative effects at about 400 mg of caffeine per day. She said one may get irritable, have trouble sleeping, experience shakiness, crave more sugar and even experience an irregular heartbeat.

Chiurazzi said a lot of people, especially students, abuse caffeine. “It’s a strong stimulant,” she said. “People are taking it for the wrong reasons, and they can experience side effects.”

Because caffeine is such a powerful stimulant, it can cause over-stimulation. “Large amounts of caffeine can have a totally opposite effect,” she said.

She said with over-stimulation it may be hard to concentrate and sit still, which makes it difficult to study effectively.

Chiurazzi said caffeine may keep a person awake at night, but its effects may not be as desirable come morning.

“Usually whenever there’s a stimulant, the counteraction is you come down and crash,” she said. “Students may find they are mentally not as ready to take a test in the morning after a night of caffeine and studying.”

Students think drinking more caffeine after an all-nighter will help them get through the day, but it will eventually catch up to them. “They’re not going to be as alert and as sharp as they would be if they would have had more moderate amounts of caffeine combined with adequate sleep,” Chiurazzi said.

Hooked on caffeine?

Kovatch said there is also a social aspect to coffee. “I love sitting down with people and drinking coffee,” she said.

Chiurazzi said the most common source of caffeine is becoming a trendy one. “Coffee is becoming really trendy for socialization with all the coffee houses and specialty coffee shops popping up,” she said. “I think people consume more caffeine than they used to for that reason.”

Like Kovatch, Colin Veitch, a senior flight technology major, said he is a caffeine addict.

“I experience withdrawal symptoms if I don’t get it,” he said. “I’m not mentally addicted to it, but my body is addicted.”

Veitch said he drinks coffee every morning. “It’s a nice way to get up,” he said. “It relaxes me and gives me energy at the same time.”

Veitch said his caffeine dependency affects his sleeping habits. “Because I’m so used to drinking it every morning, I’ll start getting a headache if I sleep in,” he said.

Although coffee is likely the most well known, caffeine addiction can come from other sources.

“My biggest source of caffeine is probably drinking Rockstars,” said Shannon Krnach, junior fashion merchandising major. Krnach said she has one or two a week, though she doesn’t consider herself addicted. “I drink them to stay awake,” she said.

Chiurazzi said sometimes a person can become addicted to caffeine without realizing it. “It’s easy to get too much,” she said. “You drink a soft drink because you like it, then you get in the habit of having that because it gives you a lift.”

Veitch said he doesn’t think people know when they’re addicted because caffeine is everywhere.

“It’s just a part of life,” he said. “It’s in everything. It’s in pop. It’s in coffee. There is caffeine in aspirin because the companies know a lot of people get headaches because they’re going through caffeine withdrawal,” Veitch said. “People consume more than they realize.”

An Excedrin tablet has the same amount of caffeine as a 5 ounce cup of coffee, said Chiurazzi. “There’s a gal I work with, her caffeine withdrawal came from quitting Excedrin,” she said.

“Caffeine is not only a stimulant. It also dilates the blood vessels, so if someone has a headache caffeine can make it better. That’s why it’s in those medications.”

Importance of balance

Chiurazzi said it’s important to stay hydrated when consuming caffeine. “Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it’s going to pull excess water out of the body,” she said. “When you get dehydrated, your brain also starts to dehydrate. This can cause headaches and affect concentration.”

She also said it’s important to alternate caffeine with equal amounts of water to help compensate for the dehydration.

Chiurazzi said she thinks students consume a lot of caffeine toward the end of the semester.

“It’s probably one of the reasons why there are so many crabby people! They’re irritable and pumped up on caffeine, and they don’t usually feel too good with that.”

Contact features correspondent Anna Duszkiewicz at [email protected].