The fuel that college students run on

Though it’s rarely thought of in such terms, caffeine is a drug (and a very popular one at that). Over 90 percent of Americans get a fix on a daily basis. Caffeine is typically ingested in the form of coffee, many kinds of tea, soda, energy drinks and chocolate.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and it’s addictive (although much less so than nicotine or illicit drugs like cocaine). Millions of college students are physically dependent on caffeine in order to wake up in the morning, beat the afternoon blahs and stay awake at night. If you drink coffee regularly but don’t believe that you’re addicted to caffeine, try going without it for a few days and see how you feel.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Caffeine

  • It affects your blood. Caffeine causes the liver to release its reserves of glucose (sugar). This is why we feel a rush of energy after drinking a caffeinated beverage. Our bodies then release insulin to counteract the effects of the glucose and return our blood sugar to normal levels. This drop in blood sugar causes us to feel tired again and crave more caffeine.
  • Switching to decaf could actually make you more tired. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, your body will become conditioned to expect caffeine. When you drink decaf, your body gets all the cues that a jolt of caffeine is coming (the smell and taste of coffee), so your blood sugar levels drop in order to counteract the effect of the expected caffeine. When the caffeine doesn’t show up, you are left feeling lethargic.
  • It’s a poor meal replacement. Drinking a caffeinated beverage instead of eating breakfast can have a bigger negative impact on your life than you might expect. Coffee, tea and cola make you feel awake, but they are almost completely devoid of the nutrients your body needs to function at peak levels.
  • Tea and coffee aren’t equal. Some teas have more caffeine than coffee, but drinking tea is healthier overall because many teas contain antioxidants.
  • It eases the pain it causes. Caffeine can cause analgesic drugs (painkillers) to perform better. Because of this, it’s often used to help relieve headaches. However, it should be noted that many of the headaches caffeine relieves are caused by caffeine withdrawal, so it makes sense that consuming caffeine would alleviate the pain.
  • It’s not magic. Caffeine might help you feel more alert after a night of drinking, but it can’t do anything to sober you up or cure your hangover.
  • It could kill you. Because it increases heartrate and elevates blood pressure, caffeine has been linked to heart disease. Some scientists have attempted to draw links to cancer and psychosis, as well, but the evidence supporting these claims is inconclusive.
  • Seriously, it could kill you. Combining energy drinks like Red Bull with alcoholic beverages can be life-threatening. Caffeine is a stimulant and can prevent you from noticing the effects of how much alcohol you’ve consumed. Also, combining energy drinks and alcohol can dehydrate your body to a potentially fatal degree.
  • You can’t O.D. unless you’re very thirsty. It’s possible to overdose on caffeine, but you would have to ingest 10 grams of caffeine (the equivalent of more than 50 cups of coffee).
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