Students who habitually consume caffeine don’t always pay attention to side effects

by Hannah Benson, ’15

Staggering into class with a thermos of coffee. Dashing off to Starbucks before the end of lunch. Meeting at Stauf’s after school to study.

Such is the life of the avid coffee drinker. On average, senior and Starbucks employee Sam Rice drinks four cups of coffee a day.

“I think I would die without coffee,” Rice said.

Rice carries a Stauf’s brand thermos to all of his classes. When the thermos is emptied, usually around lunch, he will dash off to one of the many coffee shops surrounding the high school. After school, Rice refills his thermos once more and heads to work, where he receives free coffee during break.

Rice introduced himself to caffeine in his freshman year.

“I just wanted to be awake after school,” said Rice. “I had always wondered about how coffee tasted, but I hadn’t been allowed to drink it before because I was too young.”

Senior Katie Padavick, however, abstains from drinking coffee. Her choice of caffeine is tea.

“I don’t like coffee. It makes me feel kind of sick after I drink it,” Padavick said. “When I do drink it, I feel fine at first. Thirty minutes later, I literally want to puke. It’s not an allergy, but my body just can’t process high amounts of caffeine.”

Coffee is popular among high school students for its well-recorded benefits: increased metabolism, quickened cognitive functions, improved athletic performance and an alert mood.

Its undesirable side effects are less well-known. Caffeine increases anxiety, disrupts natural sleep patterns and raises risk of heartburn and acid reflux.

Caffeine dependence was recently recognized as a mental disorder. In people who take 100 mg of caffeine per day (roughly the amount in one cup of coffee), a few caffeine-free days in a row will cause headaches and nausea. In extreme cases, withdrawal can cause depression, muscle stiffness and vomiting.

On mornings when coffee is unavailable, Rice tends to flounder.

“There was one morning the other week [when I didn’t have coffee] where I literally fell asleep during a German listening test,” Rice said. “And then I fell asleep again the period after in Health.”

Fortunately for Rice and other caffeine lovers, a myriad of healthy alternatives to coffee exist. Coconut water, a naturally sweet liquid packed with rehydrating electrolytes, is one of the most prominent.

Yerba Mate is a popular caffeinated alternative to coffee. Unlike traditional coffee, Yerba Mate is naturally caffeinated by the leaves of the South American rainforest holly tree.

Tea, of course, remains beloved. In addition to being naturally caffeinated, most teas are a source of antioxidants and B vitamins.

“I don’t drink coffee now…,” Padavick said, “…and I don’t think I ever will.”

Image caption: A mug of coffee languishes on the counter of Stauf’s Coffee House in Grandview. Stauf’s is a popular destination for an after-school caffeine fix among UAHS students.

Image by Katherine Wilburn