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Caffeine: America’s substance of choice

Caffeine addiction is one of the most common addictions in North America. According to the Journal of Food Science, 90% of adults in the United States consume products that contain caffeine. Caffeine is a common stimulant drug added to beverages like coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, etc. 

Caffeine addiction is one of the most common addictions in North America. (Photo illustration by Xavier McCombs/Kokopelli)

People consume caffeine to help them have more energy and be more alert, especially if they have heavy school or work commitments. 

On a typical day, NMSU student Jason Perez says he drinks one or two energy drinks between noon and midnight. 

“It’s easy to get energy [from caffeine] and it’s good to have when I don’t have time to just sit down and eat food,” Perez said.

Energy drinks usually contain 50-160 mg of caffeine, depending on the type.

College students tend to consume more than the average amount of caffeine. According to a study conducted at Villanova University, one’s daily caffeine consumption should not exceed 200-300 mg, however, many college students are consuming closer to 400-500 mg.

Caffeine has different side effects depending on the individual consuming it. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, factors that determine how an individual is affected by caffeine include physical size, weight, health, whether the individual has consumed caffeine before, and whether the individual has used other drugs around the same time.

There are some health benefits for people who consume caffeine. Caffeine causes a change in brain messaging which can result in improved mood and brain function. These improvements can result in improved alertness, better short-term recall and reaction time, and a lower risk of depression. Perez said energy drinks provide him with a sense of comfort. 

Caffeine can also increase metabolism by 11%, along with fat-burning by 13%, by stimulating the body’s central nervous system. Caffeine actually promotes the use of fat as fuel for exercise, which is beneficial and helps the glucose stored in the muscles last longer. Caffeine consumption may also lower the risk of heart disease by 16-18%, the risk of stroke by 14-20%, and protect against diabetes.

Caffeine addiction is one of the most common addictions in the U.S. (Graph courtesy of ScienceDirect)

However, there are negative side effects from consuming caffeine. Perez mentioned that consuming energy drinks gives him a headache sometimes.

According to Better Health, headaches are one of the side effects from consuming caffeine regularly, along with increased breathing and heart rate. 

Other negative side effects include restlessness, excitability, dizziness, anxiety, irritability, dehydration, needing to urinate more often, higher body temperature, lack of concentration and stomach pains.

When people consume especially high amounts of caffeine, they can experience more intense side effects like tremors, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, panic attacks or seizures. Consuming substantial amounts of caffeine regularly can cause long-term effects such as ulcers, ringing in the ears, irregular heart rate and low blood pressure with faintness.

If an individual combines the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, it can put a strain on the body and mask the alcohol’s sedative effects. This can lead to drinking more, risk-taking behavior and increased alcohol-related harm.

If an individual consumes caffeine simultaneously with other psychoactive drugs, it may increase the effects of those drugs. There is also potential for negative interactions between caffeine and certain over-the-counter and prescribed medications.

Terminating caffeine, or even just making an effort to consume less, can be incredibly challenging for some individuals who are addicted. Because their bodies are used to the amount of caffeine that they have been consuming over an extended period of time, there can be withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, marked fatigue or drowsiness, nausea, anxiety, irritability, sweating, dysphoria, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating and flu-like symptoms.

The two most common ways of breaking an addiction are weaning off of the substance or quitting “cold turkey.” The weaning method is when an individual gradually reduces the amount of caffeine being consumed each day. Caffeine Informer suggests using an all-natural caffeine quitting aid called Wean Caffeine, which helps one to reduce caffeine intake over time and minimize withdrawal symptoms.

The cold turkey method is when a person stops consuming caffeine all at once. There are pros and cons to abruptly terminating consumption. It is the fastest way to detox, and could potentially lead to a realization of how much influence caffeine has on body functioning. The cons include the possibility of severe withdrawal symptoms if the addiction is severe. These withdrawal symptoms are known to be debilitating, and could persuade the individual to resume caffeine consumption for relief. 

Learn more about caffeine addiction online or call the Addiction Center for help at 866-440-3814. 

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