Caffeine is the most popular behavior-altering drug in the world, and you can probably thank college students for at least some of that.
Frequent caffeine consumption can lead to a strong tolerance over time, resulting in a need for a greater intake to achieve the same effect. The highly debated topic raises the question: is caffeine a necessity or has the promise of a quick energy boost become an unbreakable habit?
Janele Bayless, a registered dietician for the Office of Student Life, said caffeine’s addictive attributes come at a price.
“It’s not a nutrient that’s required by the body for good health and functioning,” Bayless said. “If people develop a reliance on it, it could be because they’re not getting enough sleep…and or they’re just not getting the nutrition their bodies would benefit from through food.”
Bayless said a standard limit on caffeine consumption is no more than 200 to 300 milligrams a day; a single six-ounce cup of black coffee contains about 100 milligrams. Bayless warned of possible drawbacks such as increased heart rate, a less restful sleep and headaches or migraines if you’re not one to get a usual fix for the day.
Since caffeine is a diuretic, it causes more liquid to quickly pass through the body, resulting in possible dehydration. This instance creates a tired and sluggish feeling, Bayless said, leaving you wanting another dose of caffeine.
This cycle is common to Callie Orme, a graduate student in social work. Orme works long hours as a mental-health technician, leading to an ample amount of caffeine consumption.
“I drink about one to two cups of coffee a day; I don’t even think about it,” Orme said. “[At work] I’ll probably have a caffeinated soda, and if I’m working a really long shift, especially the overnight ones, I’ll get an energy drink. It’s pretty bad.”
If you’re someone who has replaced your sleeping pattern with too many shots of espresso, cutting out caffeine won’t solve the problem. To reverse the issue, Bayless stresses patience.
“From personal experience, I don’t think I’d ever recommend going cold turkey,” Bayless said. “People could cut down their caffeine intake by 50 milligrams of caffeine each day. I would make it more of a gradual process so that way the body has a little bit of time to adjust.”
A world without caffeine is one Orme could live in, but not without challenge.
“If I absolutely had to [give up caffeine] I guess I would, but I don’t think it would go very well,” Orme said. “My body’s so used to it … I feel like I’m dependent on it, but it might just be my brain thinking that.”
Bayless said another step to wean yourself off a caffeine addiction is to start with the basics. Adequate rest, nourishment through food and satisfying energy needs can be just as effective instead of relying on an energy drink.
If you choose to take the leap and give up caffeine, even just for a few days, know it can be done.
“To some people it might become a little bit more of a reliance on caffeine … it’s something our bodies have gotten used to,” Bayless said. “If we got used to having it, we can get used to going without it.”