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Caffeine Consumption is Brewing Concerns on Campus

By: Pablo Martinez-Sistac

Caffeine is not only the most consumed drug in the world, but also a popular addiction at Adelphi University. A recent poll reported alarmingly high numbers on the consumption of caffeine by the student population. Most importantly, it projects an unhealthy reality in both physical and mental health that must be addressed, according to campus experts.

The poll, which surveyed 110 random students in April, revealed 81 percent have at least one caffeinated drink a day in many different forms. These include coffee and tea, as well as sodas and energy drinks.

Some students at Adelphi consume unhealthy levels of caffeine throughout their day. Photo from @eatingatadelphi on instagram.

Although one caffeinated beverage a day won’t do too much harm, the danger is it can lead to craving and consuming more caffeine, which can lead to health problems. The consequences of caffeine are far more than the widely known insomnia it can cause.

According to Scott Zotto, Adelphi’s coordinator of substance abuse counseling and prevention programing, caffeine is a stimulant that provides momentary “jolts” to the body.

“When these short-term effects wear out, we crave more,” Zotto said. “Students will drink a coffee before class or while studying and then feel low. Then they will drink another one to feel good again.”

When situations like this become a pattern, and vicious cycles are then formed, that’s when addiction begins.

“That’s the danger behind saying ‘I can’t study without coffee,’” Zotto said.

Experts warn that besides affecting sleep, too much caffeine can also cause anxiety and harm mental health. It can also be financially costly, as the average price of a small drink at the newly opened Starbucks in the University Center goes for about $5.

Despite the risks and costs, many students insist they can’t perform without caffeine. The poll revealed an increase in intake during exam season, with 63 percent reporting drinking more caffeinated beverages during midterms and finals.

“I’m just too overworked and coffee helps me deal with stress,” said Megan Trivolis, 22, a senior nursing student.

Grace Lardner, 18, a first-year theater major, said, “It gets me through my classes and assignments. I also have a job.”

Adelphi’s dietitian Jessica Jaeger isn’t surprised caffeine has become a staple for Panthers. “According to a study published in 2019, college-aged students consume slightly more caffeine than the rest of the population,” she said.

However, she cautioned that there’s no definitive proof caffeine actually improves student success. “The studies offer mixed results, but generally suggest that caffeine consumption does not improve academic performance,” she said.

Jaeger believes caffeine addiction isn’t a cause for concern for many people because they don’t see it as a drug. “Since it does not induce an altered state of being, people overlook the fact that it’s a drug. It is now normalized and seen as a part of everyday life,” she said.

This normalization, however, can also lead to addiction. In the poll, 30 percent of students declared themselves addicted to caffeine. But school officials take caffeine addiction seriously and offer assistance to students who feel they have a problem and want help. Erin Furey, mental health promotion coordinator of Adelphi’s Student Counseling Center, has dealt with caffeine addictions on campus. Although she said most students she works with use it for studying or for exercising, she sees casual consumption as the biggest risk. But Furey conceded it’s difficult to change what are lifelong habits for many people.

“People don't realize caffeine comes in different forms and we’re given caffeine from a very young age in soda and candy,” she said. “As we age, coffee becomes present at breakfast and study sessions. Then there are coffee breaks at work, and a whole culture surrounding coffee shops. Also, some cultures will have a strong tradition of tea drinking or coffee.”

She said she wants to raise awareness of mental health being directly linked with psychoactives--a term applied to chemical substances that change a person's mental state by affecting the way the brain and nervous system work--and that most people are not aware of the amount of caffeine they consume. Even a “daily fix” can affect an unresolved issue unknown to the drinker or not.

“Sixty-two percent of college students will experience overwhelming anxiety and a stimulant like caffeine can only exacerbate it,” she explained.

Students who are concerned they may have a caffeine problem can visit Furey at her office in Nexus 141. For those who prefer to continue their caffeine habit, she advised they drink water to prevent dehydration and to become conscious of the different effects it has on ourselves.

“Just like alcohol, figure out your limits on caffeine so you can fully enjoy the experience,” Furey said.

SIDEBAR: An Insider’s Look at Our Coffee Habits

Coffee culture at Adelphi is based around the University Center’s Starbucks where peacefully lounging students are usually found along hectic waiting lines--even during this pandemic.

Taylor Ferraro, marketing manager for Dining Services, shared sales information via email. The average number of customers they serve in a day is 275. These customers decrease on weekends because there are tighter schedules and no commuters.

The busiest times of the day are between 9 am and 11 am and then between 1 pm and 3 pm. The tendency makes sense since it occurs around breakfast and lunchtime when students get a “pick-me up” drink before classes.

Ferraro said she had noticed an increase in sales during exam season at both the Starbucks and the Paws Cafe.

Regarding the popularity of caffeine, she wrote: “I think the appeal is the fact that you can customize your beverage however you want it and to fit what you’re craving. Customers don’t have to stick to traditional coffee orders anymore.”

Starbucks is aware most people order drinks with more than just caffeine, usually opting for sweeteners and creamers. Ferraro reported the Strawberry Acai Lemonade Refresher as their most popular drink. This is not just a caffeinated drink, 45mg according to the online menu. It also contains 32g of fat and 32g of sugar. Just like the Refresher, most drinks sold contain more than just coffee. They contain sugars, fat and the chemicals found in flavorings and syrups.

Sugar, like caffeine, can also create short-term crashes and long-term dependency. Along with caffeine those are equally striking ingredients to be in a single cup and to consume daily.

--Pablo Martinez-Sistac

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