By: Alexa Mandes
Four out of five college students consume caffeine on a daily basis. The debate on the pros and cons of caffeine have been debated for decades as America becomes more and more known as a nation of “caffeine addicts.” Caffeine is also becoming a social problem with the amount of coffee shops that are constantly being built on every street corner in cities and in every plaza of the suburbs. Universities are also known for adding to caffeine addiction by putting coffee shops within their cafeterias and campuses to appease the student’s needs for a jolt before a big exam. There are even caffeine-fueled products being put out on the market, such as caffeine water, lip balms, or even gum. Yet whether caffeine is a problem for students, among other individuals, is always in question.
Students seem to think that heightened energy levels lead to heightened academic performances. Is this really the case? There actually is not a definite answer on whether or not caffeine helps or hinders academic performance; you simply must decide what works best for you. But there studies.
Caffeine is the most widely used drug in America, coming before alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. And like illicit drugs, it produces withdrawal and in large doses can be fatal (www.spub.ksu.edu 1996). According to Troyer and Markle (1984), psychiatrists have even labeled behavioral patterns attributed to caffeine consumption with the diagnostic term “caffeinism”. These behavioral patterns can include restlessness, nervousness, and insomnia, which can last four to six hours after consuming only one cup (8 oz.) of coffee (Troyer and Markle 1984). It should also be noted that although new caffeinated beverages are readily available to the public, coffee still accounts for 75% of all caffeine consumed in the country (Schardt and Schmidt 1996).
Many students rely on energy drinks and espresso-induced coffee to get them through late-night cram sessions. Caffeine has become the friend of almost every college student out there. From early-morning classes after a late-night party to the procrastinators usual routine. What is truly bizarre is that caffeine does not appear to be helping in the long-run of the studying process. So do we all have it backwards? According to Mooney (2000), we do. He said that caffeine has been seen to cause panic attacks within laboratory research. Could this mean an increase in anxiety of a student before an important test or exam?
The desire for caffeine by students is to produce clear, rapid thought, and above all, keep fatigue at bay. Yet according to Braun (1996), although caffeine is proven to increase the production of adrenalin and may speed up reaction time in simple arithmetic skills, it has been proven to worsen performance in longer, more complicated word problems. In relation to study habits, it seems that most college students are above the simple arithmetic level, yet many continue to drink two cups of coffee or more daily. Many students think that these energy drinks will do exactly that, give them energy and “turn on” their brains as it increases their alertness. Wesley Ayer from Camden County College says that he is so addicted to Red Bull that he gets migraines if he goes too long without one and that he believes it does help him when it comes to doing homework or studying for long periods of time. Does this make the addiction all mental? Although research on caffeine affecting the study habits of memory and recall are few, Braun notes that caffeine only improves the mental ability of speed and not power. In other words, caffeine only degrades performance in logical reasoning, which is what most college level material entails.
From reading past research on the topic, it is made clear that there is no real answer to this controversial topic of whether or not caffeine helps students. What it may truly come down to is the student’s preference, how well it works for them, and their studying habits overall. As reported by the University of Virginia (www.virginia.edu 1999), healthy study habits include time management, avoiding procrastination, and maintaining good health habits such as adequate sleep and a well-balanced diet. Who knows if a cup of coffee in the morning could hurt?