We all know that it’s impossible to survive without food, water, and sleep. But for many college students, caffeine also belongs on this list of human necessities. If you’re someone who “needs” coffee or some other form of caffeine to make it through the day, it’s worth learning what effects this habit has on your body and mind. There’s a fine line between enjoying an occasional cup of coffee and being reliant on multiple cups per day. Here is some information about caffeine in general, and how to know if you’re developing a caffeine addiction.
Why We Like Caffeine
Caffeine is a chemical that is naturally found in over sixty plants. Of the 12,000 tons of caffeine Americans consume every year, the majority comes from coffee and tea. Caffeine increases dopamine levels, which makes us happier, and blocks certain receptors in our brain to make us feel less drowsy. Caffeine not only makes us feel happier and more awake, it can also temporarily help improve our reflexes, memory and comprehension skills in a short period of time after consumption. These positive effects of caffeine can be appealing to a tired college student facing a long day of classes.
Negative Effects of Caffeine
The FDA defines caffeine as a drug. Like many other drugs, caffeine changes the way your brain and body works—it also changes the way you feel. In addition to the positive benefits described above, caffeine can make you jittery, keep you from being able to fall asleep, and increase your heart rate. Caffeine can also cause headaches and dehydration. When we consume caffeine regularly for an extended period of time, our bodies get used to it, and we need more to feel the same positive effects. People build up a tolerance for caffeine and can eventually develop a physical dependency.
Are You Addicted?
A good way to tell if you are dependent on caffeine is by trying to not have caffeine for a day and see how you feel. If you get a severe headache or muscle aches, or if you feel temporarily depressed, you are probably more dependent on caffeine than you realize. The good news is that even if you do find you are reliant on caffeine, it doesn’t mean that you’re addicted for life, or that you have to cut out caffeine completely. On average it takes less than a week to stop being physically dependent on caffeine. Studies also suggest that moderate amounts of caffeine, or roughly 5-10 ounces of coffee a day, isn’t harmful. If you reduce your caffeine consumption to a less harmful amount, your body will adjust sooner than you think. After a while, a cup of coffee or tea won’t be something you “need,” but something you can enjoy when you’re in the mood.
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