Nutrition coffee and notebook

Published on April 29th, 2013 | by Joe Starks

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Know Your Substances: Caffeine

Caffeine is the world’s most widely used or abused stimulant drug. Almost all of us consume it in one way or another if we can get our hands on it. Whether we drink sports drinks, the all-so-popular cola type drinks, energy drinks or plain coffee, caffeine is usually what makes us go for another cup or glass the next day or the few hours even. Is caffeine an addictive drug though, like heroin and cocaine? Does it harm us? How much should one drink and how much is too much?

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a characteristically bitter xanthine alkaloid. It acts as a stimulant drug in our bodies. We can find various amounts of caffeine in many seeds, leafs and fruit of plants, for which it acts as a natural pesticide, paralyzing bugs. Caffeine does not have a paralyzing effect on humans; on the contrary it creates a mild state of euphoria mainly through giving us a feeling of being more energetic.

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, which means it makes you more alert and it temporarily diminishes drowsiness. I say temporarily because when your body is drowsy there is a reason for it and caffeine only masks that reason, it does not erase it. This means as soon as the caffeine’s effect is gone you will feel the same drowsiness and often an even greater fatigue than before, because you exerted yourself instead of resting due to the caffeine.

Is Caffeine an addictive drug?

Caffeine can be considered addictive, because if it is consumed at a certain level (from two or more cups of coffee every day) you will feel the need for it once you stop consuming. Withdrawal lasts only one or two days and has very minor side-effects on your health. Specifically, people who are going through caffeine withdrawal will have a strong headache, feel some nausea and have a strong desire to drink something caffeinated. This might cause mild discomfort for these couple of days, but no lasting effects remain on the body afterwards.

The need for caffeine is not as strong as it is for other drugs. This means that withdrawal is incomparably easier than what it is for serious recreational drugs like cocaine or Hashish. You only need a small amount of willpower to stay caffeine-free, which means you are less prone to do anything dangerous or socially inappropriate to get your dose. Caffeine does not alter your mental state as much as recreational drugs do. You will not see illusions or get schizophrenic ideas in your mind. Caffeine’s effects can be compared to a normal euphoria you feel when you wake up happily to a sunny day, while the effect of drugs is (according to users) otherworldly and incomparable to anything normal.

So caffeine is not classified anywhere close to recreational drugs in the official lists for all the above reasons.

Side-effects of Caffeine use

If you consume a large amount of caffeine every day (specifically over 250mg a day) you probably will get a condition called caffeinism, or in other words caffeine addiction. When addicted to caffeine you will feel irritated without any reason, restless no matter how tired you actually should be, you will most likely suffer from insomnia and you can get frequent headaches and heart palpitations.

This is why caffeine should be consumed in small enough doses so that you don’t get these nasty side-effects that can make you a less pleasant person to be around and diminish your athletic performance.

There are no official records of anyone dying from drinking energy drinks or coffee alone. But excessive caffeine use when combined with alcohol seems to be causing a higher risk to get into a car accident and generally get you engaged in riskier behavior. This is why caffeine should not be mixed with other drugs. Caffeine use can be especially dangerous for teenagers as they are more sensitive to its effects and can have social problems due to their increased irritation and lack of concentration. Teenagers are jittery and irritated enough without stimulation!

Some athletes use caffeine as an illegal way to improve performance by tricking their body to ignore its fatigue levels. This can be extremely dangerous as fatigue is the body’s healthy alarm system to protect you from injury and over exertion.

Conclusion

Caffeine can be harmless fun if taken in small dosages (one cup of coffee a day or a can of cola). Energy drinks should be avoided as they contain far too much caffeine for a single drink. Caffeine pills should only be taken with your physician’s blessing. Caffeine does not affect your life in the way recreational drugs do, but it can change your character and quality of life nonetheless.

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