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The Silent Epidemic of Caffeine Addiction in Students

It seems like today the staples of any finals or midterm season include study materials, breakdowns and an exorbitant amount of caffeine. Whether its in the form of a venti macchiato, multiple Red Bulls, a five hour energy or cold brew, many students and young adults rely on caffeine to get through their days (especially at times of high stress). As demands from school and work seem to increase and results still need to be achieved, a lot of my peers and others have leaned on using caffeine as a way to cope with all the additional stressors.

It seems like today the staples of any finals or midterm season include study materials, breakdowns and an exorbitant amount of caffeine. Whether its in the form of a venti macchiato, multiple Red Bulls, a five hour energy or cold brew, many students and young adults rely on caffeine to get through their days (especially at times of high stress). As demands from school and work seem to increase and results still need to be achieved, a lot of my peers and others have leaned on using caffeine as a way to cope with all the additional stressors. While many people are quick to warn about the dangers of drugs such as LSD, heroin and narcotics, few make note of the catastrophic impacts of caffeine (a completely legal substance) on the health and prosperity of our future. Consider also that at these young ages teens are especially susceptible to the effects of branding and marketing, and many ads by companies exploit this by targeting an already susceptible age group without properly informing them. Furthermore, caffeine is deeply habit forming although not in the same addictive way like cocaine or other drugs.

top view photo of coffee near tablet
Photo by Arshad Sutar on Pexels.com

Why does caffeine not have much of an impact like it does on others or like it used to?

I’m someone who has a genetic predisposition to not be impacted by the “upping” effects of caffeine. I just don’t gain the energy and jitters from caffeine in the way that most people do. That means, at a genetic level, when I consume caffeine it doesn’t bind to my adenosine receptors (caffeine resembles adenosine molecularly thus often binding to adenosine receptors) and, at later stages, my liver metabolizes coffee quickly due to an abundance of CYP1A2 enzymes. This combination leaves me with at best a brief effect due to coffee intake and at worst nothing at all. While some people can be jittery for hours, I can take a nap after multiple shots of espresso.

I’m not a smoker or a drug user, but if you are someone that falls into those categories chances are you develop a fast metabolism for caffeine and other things. For those who don’t have a genetic predisposition or other reason, the real answer is much grimmer: You’ve had to much and built a tolerance. Caffeine is a drug and like other drugs your body can get used to the amount that it has been receiving. As time passes you have to up the intake in order to get the same effect.

beans brew caffeine coffee
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

How much caffeine is too much?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents (ages 12-18) should have a maximum daily intake of 100mg of caffeine. This equates to roughly 1 cup of coffee or 1/2 cups of tea or 2/3 cans of soda. Adults can safely consume about 400mg of caffeine per day. One venti blonde roast coffee ( a simple large coffee) already puts you at 475mg. But if the danger isn’t readily apparent then it should become more apparent when you consider that many places don’t clearly label how much caffeine a product contains. It is an extra hoop to jump through for a probably already stressed teen on a time crunch. Furthermore, stores don’t place on a limit on how many shoot of espresso can be added onto an already highly caffeinated beverage. I know a lot of people that would be willing to not only pay the extra $0.60- $0.70 a shot on top of their caffeine filled beverage, but that depend upon that in order to get enough energy to stay awake for such long hours. Furthermore, when Consumer Reports investigated the caffeine quantities of 27 various energy drinks they found “5 products of the 16 [that had caffeine quantities indicated] had 20% more coffee than what was claimed on the label” and “11 products out of 27 didn’t list the amount of caffeine at all.”

blur bracelets caffeine close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What effects does caffeine have on your body?

Benefits (of moderate or recommended amount of caffeine):

*may help with long term memory (Hopkins)

*reduced risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s  (Hopkins)

*can increase endurance (European Food Safety Agency)

*can increase attention and alertness

*reduced risk of skin cancer

Risks (of too much caffeine):

*worsens anxiety and depression

*blood glucose levels rise impairing insulin action

*possible loss of pregnancy, delayed fetal growth or abnormal fetal heart rhythm (if more than 300mg daily)

*4x increase in recurrence of gout

*disruption of normal sleep patterns
*chronic headache

*high blood pressure

*dehydration

*stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea

*muscle tremors, jitters, shakes

*enamel loss due to acidity

 

What are some interactions to watch out for?

*antibiotics

*many antidepressants

*bronchodilators

*antipsychotic medication

*calcium supplements

*echinacea supplements

*melatonin supplement

*magnesium supplements

*alcohol

art blur cappuccino close up
Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

It’s important to know about what your intake is like on a daily basis and to watch out for sneaky ways that you might be consuming more than necessary or then that is wanted. Furthermore, caffeine would be a much safer substance if it is more clearly regulated as such instead of as a food additive (established in the 1980s). It is deeply important to ask companies to be transparent about the amounts of caffeine their products contain so that consumers are able to make informed decisions and purchases. This is especially crucial for those who are at an age that is especially susceptible to marketing and peer pressure. The underlying caffeine epidemic in higher education and secondary schools is an institutionalized and constantly perpetuated problem at this point. Instead of enhancing time management or other study skills, many students turn to caffeine to make deadlines and then advocate the usage of caffeine to others- further perpetuating the ideation that high amounts of caffeine intake are the norm and not the exception. It’s certainly totally okay to have caffeine in moderation, but it shouldn’t be the norm to push the limits and be okay with the consequences associated with it. There is a reason why the US leads in sheer tons of caffeine consumed, but this is not something that we should be proud to lead in.


References: 

(1) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-boost-energy#section2

(2)https://www.health.harvard.edu/energy-and-fatigue/9-tips-to-boost-your-energy-naturally

(3)https://blog.lacolombe.com/2018/07/06/caffeine-affects-people-others/

(4)https://healthblog.uofmhealth.org/childrens-health/parents-perk-up-to-dangers-of-caffeine-for-teens

(5)https://spoonuniversity.com/lifestyle/espresso-royale-caffeine-loaded-drinks-to-get-you-through-finals

(6)https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20121025/how-much-caffeine-energy-drink#1

(7)https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194.php

(8)https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-side-effects#section7

Magda Wojtara is Junior at the LSA Honors College at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor on a pre-med track with a major in Neuroscience. In her free time, she write articles, volunteers at a chronic pain outpatient facility with UM Medicine, does research, competes in HOSA, and, of course, enjoys photography and singing. In her spare time she manages her own travel and lifestyle blog: @journeythedestiantion on instagram and journeythedestination.weebly.com

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