OPINION: Caffeine dependence detracts from college students’ mental and physical health

Student drinking coffee while studying on bed
(Betsy Ding • The Student Life)

The once-popular saying “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee” became a meme to poke at millennials for their dependence on caffeine, but as more of Generation Z enters college and the workforce, it’s becoming clear that they, too, depend on caffeine to get through a long day. 


Many, if not most, college students have a dependence on caffeine that masks their bodies’ need for sleep and relaxation. The pressure to be a workaholic and constantly productive makes students turn to caffeinated beverages to keep them going. The need for caffeine is ultimately rooted in the capitalist ideal of keeping people working, no matter the personal cost. 


It is imperative that college students listen to their bodies’ needs and allow themselves to rest — not only for their health but also to counteract the harmful notion that pain equals success.


According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, 92 percent of college students drink coffee, and 79 percent of said coffee-drinkers use caffeine to stay awake. Whether students need to wake up early or stay up late, they turn to caffeine to push themselves to keep going. According to a study published on the same site, 80 percent of the Western adult population consumes enough caffeine to have an effect on their brains. 


These statistics show a harrowing trend: As students continue to depend on caffeine to stay awake, they risk harming their brains. If you constantly block your adenosine receptors with caffeine long term, it can result in a dependency in caffeine and an overall tolerance to its effects.

It is crucial to understand why students turn to caffeine to stay awake instead of listening to their bodies’ need for rest. College students feel an immense amount of pressure to succeed in their classes, no matter the cost on their health. Sleeping for four hours every night and downing two cups of coffee in the morning to get through your classes should not be normalized.

Capitalism upholds the idea that constantly working should be everyone’s primary focus. Once caffeine was proven to boost workers’ productivity and stamina, business owners started implementing coffee breaks for their workers while making sure they did not get paid during those breaks. 


Our constant access to caffeine started from the exploitation of the working class. Caffeine was never meant to be a healthy supplement to our diets — it was introduced so that we would keep working. 


Many students drink caffeinated beverages like coffee or yerba mate because they love the taste. While this is understandable, you should examine if you have any form of dependency on these beverages, regardless of their deliciousness. If drinking coffee becomes something you rely on to finish homework late at night, that is a sign that your body needs a break, not caffeine.


Businesses like Starbucks draw people into depending on caffeine. Their drinks are fun, delicious and convenient for the average consumer. An iced brown sugar oat milk shaken espresso barely sounds like coffee anymore, but it is still a caffeinated beverage that you can eventually become dependent on. 


Another issue is that coffee is seen as a trend, which could in turn normalize caffeine consumption and facilitate caffeine addiction if students are drinking too much of it. For example, the hashtag “coffeetok” on TikTok shows young people making a variety of enticing coffee-based beverages. It is very likely that viewers will stumble upon those videos and decide they want to become daily coffee drinkers for the sake of being trendy. 


Students may fear that if they do not force themselves to stay awake at night and abandon their needed naptime to work, they will fall behind their peers. There is a notion that work is meant to be painful, and if you are not in pain, you are not doing enough. Constantly feeling exhausted while working creates a false idea that misery is an inevitable aspect of achievement. 


We enjoy the feeling of needing caffeine to stay awake during the day because it reminds us that we worked endlessly the night before. This association makes students who are well-rested and take needed breaks feel like they are not doing enough. 


In order to break free from caffeine dependence, college students need to give themselves a break. If you are tired, you should try to rest; your long-term health matters more than trying to outperform your peers. Your health should not be sacrificed in pursuit of success.  


Mishaal Ijaz SC ’24 is from San Diego, CA. She enjoys the occasional iced latte. 

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