Caffeine addiction is a real problem

| Staff Columnist

At this stage of our lives, we are susceptible to many new choices that may lead to abuse. Being in stressful situations especially can bring about addictive behaviors—the mindlessness of action becomes soothing, and it can be comforting to not think too hard about something that seems to be working in the short term. Addiction is not limited to recreational drugs; it can be any substance that helps prop up bad habits.

It is safe to say that caffeine addiction affects college students disproportionately. It makes sense, due to the cocktail of stress hormones that exams, papers and quizzes help create. And, as with any legal addiction, addicts become a target market.

It always seemed strange to me that what seemed like so much caffeine could be sold without any sort of test. I’m thinking specifically of 5 Hour Energy Shots, Nos Power Shots, and the like. As a consumer in the United States, I’ve grown accustomed to corporations anticipating and thwarting every stupid instinct I may have so they can’t be sued. I can’t even spill coffee on myself without being told not to. It seems so inconsistent that the market oscillates between acting as though I have no common sense and then leaving me to rely solely on it. In my mind, power shots fall under this category.

I recently discovered that our campus bookstore sells something called Energy Spray. It comes in a nice, shiny package that is easily seen by the sleep-deprived.

The idea is that you give yourself three to four sprays and then let the caffeine soak in directly through your sensitive mouth skin. It begins to work in 30 seconds. It is powerful enough that you should not use more than 10 sprays every 4 hours. Does that not seem excessive in some way?

After discovering Energy Spray, I was both elated and concerned. Elated, because I had to write a paper and complete a take-home exam in the space of 36 hours, and obviously, this was my savior. My concern was a little more complicated.

As with any addiction, caffeine becomes a quick fix—something to use after already making a mistake. For me, that mistake is acting like staying up and working consecutive hours like a madwoman is a viable option as a normal operating procedure. As the products available to me get stronger, I’m going to be more and more able to rely on them instead of addressing the real issues of focus and planning that lie behind most of my all-nighters. As the caffeine market develops, there will be more potent substances for me to use as crutches.

I certainly am not against the sale of such products. There is nothing I find more irritating than the rhetoric of the Nanny State—that I need to have my options restricted because I am not capable of making proper choices for myself. This is the idea that my choices should be restricted “for my own good.” I am perfectly able to make my own bad decisions. I just think that there is an unnecessary shroud of mystery over how bad energy products actually are for you.

I think that caffeine addiction and reliance is so widespread that maybe there should be some form of education about it. I don’t think that gathering freshmen together and lecturing them about getting things done on time will change anyone’s behavioral patterns. But what about providing accurate and reliable information about a substance that most of us ingest daily without thinking about it? I know that there are a few student groups that focus on health, and sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction seem like two very large health concerns to which we are especially vulnerable. Even flyers with basic facts and information, presented without a pro or con slant, would be valuable.

With most people, common sense sends up some red flags when it comes to the more concentrated “energy” shots. Most people recognize it as an option that is nice to have, but one that shouldn’t be the chosen method of controlling wakefulness. But as with any free market, there is a certain amount of self-policing that has to happen—and it would be wonderful to know a little bit more about what I’m putting in my body.

Ann is a junior in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at aejohnson@wustl.edu.

  • Flineesinlego

    Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I’m very glad to see such wonderful info being shared freely out there.

  • Christopher Kreschollek

    I did not even finish your article and am inclined to comment so rapidly. Who ever thinks about caffeine being such a problem seems confronted with another dilemma. How do you deal with daily activities without caffeine?

    As a result of such a widespread use of this drug, we as a society have created a society that needs to be fueled with caffeine. Those of us who see it as a health risk, and begin to ween off the stuff, start to realize that we are doing to much throughout the day. Way more than necessary to survive.

    But then you stop. Life slows down. Things that you would do throughout one day, might take three days to do it. People start to look at you strange. They think, “Oh, well, he is just lazy.” It is such a shame that people are so narrow minded, and think that health is a joke.