Subtle Addiction: How Much Caffeine Is Too much?

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We’ve all done it one too many times. We wake up and go straight for the coffee. Have to get through writing a paper? Turn on the Keurig. Need to stay up all night studying for a midterm? Let’s get four extra espresso shots in that caramel macchiato. The next thing we know we’re an empty shell of a human barely crawling to that exam the next morning. Whether you prefer your caffeine in a Starbucks cup or a Monster can, we’ve used it as fuel to get us through our busy schedules. Is making our coffee something more than just a nice beverage to have with our donut potentially dangerous? I asked medical professionals if we need to be aware of our caffeine intake this finals week.

That caffeine boost is not necessarily so great for your health.

If you’re one of those people that gets the jitters from your coffee, that’s a potential issue. “My brother-in-law is a cardiologist and he sees arrhythmias from caffeine more than ever. It affects your central nervous system,” said Candace Reed, RN at Belleview Middle School. When you’re pacing your room from the caffeine buzz and nervous test adrenaline, you could be making it worse. “If you’re already anxious you’re going to be more anxious. If someone had a panic attack, one of the first things I would ask about how much caffeine they had,” added Reed.

Even if your heart doesn’t immediately give out, you could see the effects down the line. “Some long term effects of years of consumption can be bone loss. It can interfere with our ability to absorb calcium,” said Cheryl West, RN at The Villages Regional Hospital. When you’re 90 years old and shrunk down to 4’9”, you could attribute it to that daily Starbucks run.

When you say you’re a caffeine addict, you’re not exaggerating.

You say you could give up your morning coffee anytime you want, until you wake up for your 8 a.m. feeling like you need caffeine in an I.V. “Just like any addictive substance, you can build up a tolerance and dependency after prolonged use. When you need to consume more caffeine, it starts to reduce the stimulant effects, “said Courtney Fiedler, RN at Avante Villa in Jacksonville Beach. Basically, coffee and alcohol are one in the same; the more often you drink it, the more you’ll need it to feel its effects. Don’t be fooled into thinking that giving up coffee will just give you a little headache. You could go into withdrawal that turns you into one cranky bitch. “If someone decides to stop consuming all of that caffeine, it can lead to a crash which is where major headaches, anxiety, irritability, and concentration loss come into play,” said Fielder.

If you pick up the coffee, put down the Adderall and energy drinks.

Coffee isn’t always enough to get us through that all-nighter, but the occasional toxic waste in a can with your coffee is a serious risk. “You’re not paying attention to the dosage in energy drinks so you have your one or two cups of coffee, then you get excessive. You get elevated heart rates, feel funny and are sweating,” said Reed. Yes, caffeine gives you energy, but having a Red Bull with that coffee is too much of a good thing.

Adderall and coffee sounds like a great idea in theory; you focus while feeling awake for hours. It’s all fun and midterms until your hands are shaking like you have Parkinson’s. “Adderall is a stimulant. Adding another stimulant like coffee can be very dangerous,” said West. Alcohol, fast food and caffeine; what do they all have in common? They’re irresistible for the occasional treat, but a binge will yield crap results.

Cut addiction without the rehab.

Caffeine may seem impossible to give up, but you won’t need Betty Ford for this addiction. Just like with any bad habit, there are plenty of alternatives that aren’t as fun. “You can eat healthy snacks versus ones with a lot of sugar to give you a boost,” said Fiedler. When you need extra energy, you can exercise for 30 minutes, take a quick nap or do anything else we claim we don’t have time for as we hit “continue watching” on Netflix.

If you get the occasional Dunkin’ on the way to class, you’re probably in the clear; no need to stare at your limbs wondering if the osteoporosis has set in. A little in the morning is safe, but the caffeine overdose that comes with finals is what affects your health. If you’re already planning on drinking espresso in the library at 3 a.m. this finals week, you may want to use those 15 minutes you’d spend at Starbucks for a nap.

Senior at Florida State University. Editing, writing, and media. Passionate sleeper and coffee drinker. Go Noles!

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