The other day I started to feel odd. I did not feel focused, and I had a bit of a headache. I began to enumerate the possibilities of why I could be feeling this way, but I had enough sleep, I was hydrated and I had felt fine previously. I was mind-boggled, but the cause of my mysterious symptoms became clear when my friend asked, “Did you have coffee today?”
It all began to click — I did not have my daily dose of caffeine. Especially during the academic year, I became accustomed to having a medium cup of coffee each morning. But I recently broke that routine, and my system was reacting.
I suddenly could not wait to have my next cup of coffee and it was difficult to think about anything else. My friends often scold me for being so addicted to coffee. However, even with my headaches, fatigue and mood changes, I would not classify myself or anyone as being “addicted” to coffee. A lack of caffeine in my system hinders the way that I function, and I know many other people experience the same symptoms. However, this is because we are dependent on coffee — not addicted.
Caffeine dependency is certainly prevalent among college students and is not ideal, but according to WebMD, it professionally should not be mistaken for addiction. WebMD also states that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and it can often cause a mild physical dependence. However, caffeine cannot be destructive in the ways that addictive drugs are.
As it affects humans, “addicted” is not the proper term for a reliance on coffee. We do not experience “withdrawals” from lack of caffeine, either — these are terms for more serious issues involving addictive drugs. Caffeine does not impact our physical and emotional health in the same severe, harmful way that drugs and alcohol do.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, caffeine enhances dopamine signaling in the brain like drugs do, but caffeine is classified as a stimulant that is not addictive. Dopamine is a chemical that impacts humans both physically and emotionally. It can help someone feel more awake and alert, making it easy to develop a dependence on it. However, caffeine only causes a small rise in dopamine, while dopamine from drugs creates such a large surge in the brain that it causes an imbalance, resulting in addiction.
We as college students are a group in particular that tends to become dependent on caffeine, especially during highly stressful times such as midterms and finals week. Here at Binghamton University, we have a brand-new Dunkin’ Donuts in the Tillman Lobby in the University Union, and a new and improved Starbucks in the Hinman Dining Hall to make it more convenient for us to get that caffeine fix without ever leaving campus.
These new locations are attractive to all coffee-loving students, but especially to freshmen who have just arrived at BU and tend to excessive amount of coffee; according to a study conducted by the University of Kentucky, 78 percent of college freshmen consume above the recommended amount of caffeine per day. Although caffeine’s effects are not as medically serious as those caused by drugs or alcohol, I would recommend that freshmen — and all new coffee drinkers — practice moderation before they become reliant on their seemingly harmless daily boost.
Understandably, as college students, it is difficult to get enough sleep each night. But there are more efficient and natural ways to gain more energy than consuming caffeine, such as dieting, exercising and increasing water consumption. It is completely fine to love your coffee, as most of us do. Although you are certainly not addicted, be sure to consume caffeine in moderation before you become too dependent upon it.
Brad Calendrillo is a junior majoring in English.