Caffeine: A world of addicts

Skipping breakfast from her daily morning routine would be no problem for Santa Monica College student Alexandra Samuelson. Sacrificing her morning coffee, however, would wreak havoc. As a second-semester music major, Samuelson says, “An average morning for me is waking up, getting a cup of coffee and then have a cigarette. It’s pretty much the same routine day in, day out. I just can’t function without coffee.”

Many of us can identify ourselves with Samuelson. For many, drinking coffee is a ritual to start the day, while others might turn to certain teas, Coke-a-Cola, or an energy drink such as Red Bull. The common thread within all these morning rituals is caffeine.

Although people regularly turn to these beverages in order to get re-charged, there have been numerous reports and studies declaring that the consumption of caffeine has a long list of side effects.

According to Understanding Nutrition, a textbook used in some nutrition classes offered at Santa Monica College, caffeine is a stimulant that elicits a number of physiological and psychological effects in the body. The benefits of caffeine include the enhancement of alertness and reduction of fatigue. However, upset stomachs, nervousness, irritability, headaches, diarrhea, and sleep disturbance are only some of the side effects that have been reported. Beverages containing caffeine should be used in moderation and in addition to other fluids, not as a substitute for them.

“Consuming caffeine within three to five hours of bedtime will disturb the sleep of most people,” says Tim Roehrs, director of research at the Sleep Disorders Center of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit to the Health Action Newsletter. Caffeine interferes with adenosine, which is believed to be the brain's natural sleep regulator. According to Roehrs, caffeine consumers could have overall disrupted sleep, affecting the many benefits of a good night's rest.

“The next day they’ll feel tired, so they’ll consume more caffeine to stay alert. And that may disrupt their sleep the next night,” said Roerhs.

Caffeine expert Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine also said in the Health Action Newsletter: “Caffeine isn’t just any additive. It’s a pharmacological agent, a drug, and it leads to physical dependence in people who use it regularly.” This means that after a week of consuming caffeine every day, most people will experience headache, fatigue, or decreased alertness if they stop.

A pharmacological active dose of caffeine is defined as 200 milligrams. An 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains an average 95 mg of caffeine, whereas a decaffeinated cup only contains 2 milligrams.

Bare in mind that caffeine is not only found in beverages but also in candy bars, ice cream, yogurt, some oatmeal, and other drugs. Unlike calorie counts, there is no requirement to state the amount of caffeine presented in any foods.

Although the Food and Drug Administration lists caffeine as a multipurpose GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) substance, some caffeine drinkers do not take into account the amounts of caffeine they are taking.

Hailey Maxson, a local Starbucks barista, comments on her clients: "I'm literally a drug dealer. I deal with addicts all day long."