March 14, 2012

Caffeine Addictions Abound on Campus

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Most people consume more caffeine than recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

National Geographic in 2005 described it as the world’s most popular psychoactive drug. Nearly 90 percent of adults ingest caffeine every day, according to the Journal of the American Diabetic Association.

For University of Oklahoma students, it’s a major food group.

Research by the FDA shows shows that people who ingest as little as a half cup of coffee can develop a dependence that results in withdrawal symptoms, such as headache, fatigue and irritability.

Finance junior Glenn Maddux used to be in bed by midnight on school nights. Maddux’s plate, though, has become more full with each passing semester at the University of Oklahoma.

Maddux is currently serving as president of his fraternity, a part-time employee at a veterinary clinic, and a volunteer for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Needless to say, there are not enough hours in the day, Maddux says.

“I have very little time to sleep with my schedule,” Maddux said. “There have been multiple times where I’ll stay up all Wednesday night, sleep 6-9 p.m. Thursday, and stay awake until 7 p.m. on Friday.”

A three-sport star in high school, Maddux said he avoided consuming caffeine, which is commonly found in soda drinks, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and pills.

The consumption of caffeine would hurt his physical endurance, Maddux says.

“Now that I’m in college and I need the mental endurance to finish that eight-page paper or study for the midterm, I drink multiple forms of caffeinated drinks,” Maddux said.

Caffeine is a form of drug that, when taken in large amounts, can be detrimental to ones health, said Maggie Pool, Goddard Health Center assistant director.

For an average human being, consuming 200 to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, the amount found in two to four cups of coffee, is normal and safe, Pool said.

Anything more than that amount could cause dehydration, headaches, and decreased appetite, she said.

“Caffeine works on our bodies by stimulating the central nervous system,” Pool said. “This stimulation can cause the user to have a jittery feeling and increased heart rate. When large amounts of caffeine are ingested along with alcohol, severe dehydration could occur leading to serious medical implications.”

People can become addicted to caffeine, said Lloyd Biby, an anesthesiologist at St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa.

Like most drugs, Biby said, caffeine can have habit-forming qualities. Although, many frequent users can have withdrawals when they stop using caffeine, these withdrawals are often not serious and are very short term, she said.

On college campuses caffeine addiction and abuse has shown to be higher, according to several studies, Biby said.

“I think this is because students are generally behind on sleep and at a very high stress level so students lean on caffeine to get through their day, time and time again,” Biby said, “This can cause an addiction to caffeine.”

Caffeine stimulates brain activity and postpones drowsiness, which is what makes it so attractive to college students, she said.

More students are building caffeine habits in high school, said Dorothy Flowers, OU Housing and Food Services general manager.

“The past couple of years it has been surprising. I see more kids coming into college drinking that cup of coffee in the morning, “ Flowers said.

The problem is college students are not getting enough sleep, Flowers said.

“When you’re living at home with your parents,” she said. “They generally have you getting the eight hours of sleep that you need to function.”

The life of a college student, Flowers said, is hectic and full of many activities. Keeping a balanced schedule is the key to reducing the amount of caffeine intake, she said.

“Students are saying ‘I have to take that test, I have to go to that party,’” she said. “Balance will make it so caffeine doesn’t play as big of a role in getting the energy.”

Jon Haverfield, Joseph Truesdell, Katie Bailey and Savannah Shades also contributed to this report.