Widespread Caffeine Use Among Students Could Pose Health Risks

Overburdened with homework, students often resort to caffeine use, ignoring the darker possibility of addiction. According to the Phillipian’s 2006 State of the Academy Survey, only 12.5% of 737 students who responded have used caffeine pills on campus. However, widespread use and accessibility of other forms of the drug makes caffeine addiction a valid concern. With full schedules and demanding workloads, caffeine is a helpful and sometimes necessary part of life at Andover. Caffeine is a widely consumed, albeit addictive, chemical at PA, and while many in the community feel that it is a useful and essential part of their day-to-day routines, caffeine use can become a medical concern. Caffeine can help a student perk up before class in the morning, or get through an all-nighter. However, chronic heavy users can experience health problems, such as insomnia, anxiety, and even addiction. Many students noted that caffeine use is clearly very prevalent on the PA campus, as it is elsewhere. “I think it’s excessive, but necessary,” said Stephanie Teo ’08. They also felt that caffeine use is an essential part of life here. Mike Jiang ’07 commented, “I drink four or five Mountain Dews every day. Do I think [caffeine use] is prevalent? Yes. But is it endangering the students’ health? No.” He continued, “I don’t think the negative effects of caffeine use outweigh the benefits, like being able to stay up.” The drug works by blocking receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine in the brain, preventing the body from recognizing sleepiness. It also increases the heart rate, promoting alertness. Other students agreed that while it is obviously a popular substance, caffeine consumption is not a problem at Andover. “A lot of people [use] caffeine, but I don’t think many people are addicted,” said John Twomey ’08. Cassidy Carpenter ’08 added, “It’s not a problem because it’s not just at this school – everyone uses caffeine.” Caffeine is the most popular drug in America. In January 2005, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association wrote that as many as 90 percent of the American population had consumed caffeine, and that 87 percent of those who did had consumed it through either coffee or soda. However, some students did view caffeine as a problem on campus. James McGuiness ’08 said, “I don’t drink coffee, but a lot of people do. It’s a problem because students are overworked.” Students have also found other ways to consume caffeine besides coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks. Caffeine pills, such as NoDoz, can be used for an extra kick and are much more powerful than just a cup of coffee. NoDoz pills contain 200mg of caffeine each, while a cup of coffee usually contains between 100 and 200mg, depending on the size of the drink and the type of coffee used. Dr. Richard Keller, School Physician, observed that some other pills could contain as much caffeine as two to four cups of coffee. Students’ thoughts on pills were mixed, but many felt that the use of pills was not widespread enough to be a reason for concern. Mike Donelan ’08 said, “I know kids who take caffeine pills for finals, but I don’t think it’s a problem on campus.” Dr. Keller noted that caffeine is an immensely popular drug both on and off the Phillips Academy campus. From a medical perspective, Dr. Keller said, “Anything [with caffeine that is] used sporadically is OK. However, in big doses, caffeine becomes a concern…Multiple caffeine drinks per day could be a problem and lead to addiction.” About the usage of caffeine pills, Dr. Keller said, “Once you start using caffeine in pill form, that’s too much – especially if you take them multiple times together.” Dr. Keller acknowledged that caffeine use is widespread and often only in moderation, but he commented on cases in which consumption of too much caffeine has caused medical problems. He said, “There have been some problems. We’ve seen things like kids who have overdosed…they come in with symptoms of anxiety attack and panic.” An overdose can occur following the ingestion of as little as 250mg of caffeine, though since tolerance to the drug builds quickly, student daily consumption often greatly exceeds this value. He added, “I would stay away from high-caffeine drinks; they can get you into trouble. The next step up is the use of prescription drugs, like Ritalin, etc. They have a greater risk of serious effects.”