Caffeine Culture and Addictions

By Theodore Mattheiss 
Elm Staff Writer

We all know people who can’t start their day until they’ve had that first cup of coffee in the morning. The question is, should we be more concerned about them?

According to the Huffington Post, Americans collectively drink 400 million cups of coffee every day, making us the leading consumer of coffee in the world. Fifty-two percent of coffee drinkers would rather skip a shower in the morning than a cup of their favorite roast.

People don’t tend to think of caffeine as a drug in the same way that we think of Adderall, nicotine, or cocaine because of how overwhelmingly common and relatively mild it is, but caffeine does have a similar effect on our brain chemistry, blocking natural processes that lead to drowsiness as the day goes on.

Caffeine addiction, or a pathological and compulsive form of use, hasn’t been documented in humans, but caffeine does cause people to develop a physical dependency, which can be called a more mild form of addiction. Many of us have firsthand knowledge of what this phenomenon is like.

When people become dependent on caffeine and don’t get their daily fix, symptoms of withdrawal are never far behind. These symptoms commonly include headaches, muscle pain, lethargy, a depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, and marked irritability. It can also cause nausea and vomiting, according to Roland Griffiths, a professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins.

He believes that caffeine withdrawal should be classified as a psychological disorder. “Although most regular caffeine users know that caffeine is a mild stimulant, many are not aware that abrupt cessation can sometimes produce unpleasant withdrawal symptoms,” Griffiths said in an interview with National Geographic.

Despite these effects and concerns, caffeine is everywhere. Coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and even chocolate all contain a hearty dose of the chemical. The negative effects of caffeine withdrawal have become an integral part of the coffee culture in America, and the “don’t talk to me until I’ve got my morning buzz” trope has become exceedingly common.

Should we be more concerned about this? Well, perhaps not. According to a study done by the Bureau of Chemical Safety in Canada, moderate caffeine consumption has no impact on overall health. The worst thing coffee will do to you is leave you with a headache around 2 p.m., and if you’re experiencing the unpleasant symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, you can rest assured that, especially in America, you’re never far from a refill.

Still, people should be cognizant of the fact that caffeine is a drug like any other. In the minds of Americans it seems to exist in its own special category, but that’s not the case. We use it for the effect it has on our brains, and if we don’t get it, we pay a price.

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