As we toil through these tiring winter months, caffeine can feel for many of us like the only thing holding our hectic lives together. Even for those who choose not to drink coffee, the culture of guzzling a latte like a cup of water undeniably permeates our community. Being situated in the epicenter of a city known for its coffee, and a mere half block away from a local coffee shop, our school certainly qualifies as a caffeine dependent institution, but to what degree does the Haus feel this dependency? And who specifically feels it the most?
In order to fully grasp the idea of caffeine dependence, it is important to make the distinction between a dependence and an addiction. According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), an addiction is defined as the “uncontrolled or compulsive use of a substance even when it causes negative consequences for the person using it.” Like certain potentially harmful drugs such as MDMA and cocaine, caffeine is classified as a stimulant; it increases the flow of dopamine, a chemical which causes us to feel awake and alert and enhances our mood. However, caffeine produces a significantly smaller amount of dopamine than other stimulants, making it far less harmful to the user, and thus technically non-addictive.
The global use of caffeine for many teens and adults can be defined as a dependency, rather, and this dependency certainly exists within the microcosm of our school. Students can frequently be seen walking from class to class with a cup of coffee in hand, and the main hall sign-out sheets often fill up rapidly as hoards of students flood Kaladi Brothers Coffee, the local cafe that most NWS students and faculty are familiar with, if not frequenters of.
The area of discrepancy in caffeine consumption at NWS exists between grade levels. According to a survey sent to upper school students, the number of students per grade who would not consider themselves caffeine dependent decreases with each grade. While almost 83% of freshmen consider their relationship with caffeine non-dependent, the percentage drops to 66.7% for seniors. Further, a quarter of the senior class does feel dependent on caffeine, and 8.3% are unsure. Interestingly, the percentage of students who drink caffeinated beverages at least once a week is highest in the sophomore class, with seniors coming in second, juniors third, and freshmen with the lowest percentage. However, seniors have the most students consuming caffeine multiple times per day, with 22.2% of the class.
The general pattern of caffeine consumption rising with age makes sense; the culture of drinking coffee in the US characteristically begins in young adulthood, and increases as we age. This certainly has a lot to do with the supposed negative symptoms that come along with caffeine usage (insomnia, jitteriness, increased heart rate, etc.), all of which are side effects of a stimulant dependency. However, it would also make sense that the increase in caffeine use with age correlates to the increase in various demands and responsibilities in the user’s life, the most obvious being those that are academic.
“I first started drinking coffee regularly as my workload increased last summer and into this fall,” says Seeah L., a senior at NWS. “Now, it’s become a habit, and the amount that I drink doesn’t necessarily correlate with my school workload anymore.” Fellow senior Sarah R. agrees that while her caffeine consumption has practical benefits, it has become more habitual than a strategic tool. “I drink coffee once or twice a day, and I drink it because it really helps me wake up; it feels like just another step in getting ready for my day,” Sarah says.
Whether or not the benefits of caffeine consumption outweigh the negative side effects of dependency, caffeine use is highly complicated and unique to individuals. For many students at NWS, myself included, a latte or americano feels like somewhat of a daily necessity; I can certainly get by without it but will probably feel its absence. While I undeniably enjoy the benefits of the 150mg of caffeine involved, I also value my semi-routine trip to Kaladi for the social and cultural aspects that come along with drinking coffee. It’s important to understand that a person’s relationship with caffeine is extremely variable, and the difference between benign and toxic dependency is vast and complex. So go ahead, drink that cup of joe, but be mindful of what you’re putting into your body, and how it affects you.