Fuelling The Fire: The Hidden Grip of Caffeine Addiction on Students

Katie Sullivan

Caffeine as an accessible, fairly harmless drug has been integrated into the lives of university students as a staple. It has been made a normal part of student life to the extent that there are programmes that exist to encourage the consumption of energy drinks in more diverse settings – whatever that means? The aesthetic of ‘the main character studying in the independent coffee shop’ is something to be desired for driving students closer to not only dependence on being the main character but also caffeine.

I personally am, well and truly, totally and utterly, completely addicted to caffeine. My source of choice is black coffee ideally with an extra shot and if you put an ounce of syrup anywhere near my drink I will reject it. I am aware of it. I have come to terms with it. It does not mean I am okay with it. The main issue I have experienced since becoming caffeine dependent is migraines – which lead to brain fog, mood swings, lack of energy, lack of appetite, nausea, the inability to concentrate and decreased productivity – all only consolable by a strong caffeine kick first thing in the morning.

One thing that struck me most largely when I arrived at university was the prevalence of Red Bull on campus. A brand that has been notorious for its genius marketing and dominating much of the sports world, I was surprised when even university-level sport was consumed by the global brand. If you haven’t seen it, the Red Bull mini is quite the icon in the streets of student hub, Lenton, and is given to Red Bull student marketeers.


Red Bull is a firm favourite for those in search of a sharp caffeine kick with a unique taste, unmistakable smell and a certain level of prestige that comes with clutching a can of real, branded Red Bull. The average 250ml can of Red Bull contains not only 26g of sugar which instigates its own form of buzz, but also 80mg of caffeine, as nearly a third of the recommended upper limit of daily caffeine for healthy adults. Other brands that have become icons on university campuses include Monster and Relentless energy drinks.

Red Bull is familiar with late-night study sessions in the library and relied on for early morning exams in the student culture and carried right through to celebrations in nightclubs and bars supplemented by a large measure of vodka or a shot of Jaegermeister. It is everywhere, it’s hard to avoid and it’s encouraged by programmes such as the Red Bull Student Marketeer scheme which outrightly states intends to ‘establish Red Bull consumption in diverse locations’.

These buzzing drinks seem harmless on the surface…

These buzzing drinks seem harmless on the surface and even in the nightclub, however, repeated consumption of such high caffeine drinks can lead to dependence on caffeine and potentially harmful effects on physical and mental wellbeing. Exchanging breakfast for an energy drink or a humble cappuccino is a habit we are all too familiar with, and actively causes damage to the natural processes our body takes care of to help us live life comfortably.

Drinking coffee, specifically, on an empty stomach can lead to digestive issues including increased acid, ulcers, and raised stress hormone levels. Cortisol is your primary stress hormone which is most commonly raised by increased caffeine intake. Side effects for consistent high cortisol levels include increased inflammation and a weakened immune system – and a worse quality of life! @HealthwithHolland on TikTok has some great content on her page to help educate on how to recognise symptoms of high cortisol and reduce levels easily.

coffee with work

According to research, 91.1% of participants involved in a study investigating ‘Caffeine Intake among Undergraduate Students’ admit to regular use of caffeine in various forms. 9.5% of participants admit to consuming a higher level than the recommended amount of caffeine – which is a shockingly high number of students who are making themselves vulnerable to a potentially damaging addiction which is so easily accessible.

In terms of practicality, time and money is wasted topping up caffeine intake. Waiting in line in coffee shops for a £4 cappuccino, heading to shops to stock up on cans of energy drinks are all significant wastes of time when added up that could be spent researching other ways to supplement the energy boost we crave from the caffeine drug.

Caffeine is a stimulant which blocks the effects of the natural hormone adenosine – which makes you feel sleepy

When we strip it down to biology, caffeine is a stimulant which blocks the effects of the natural hormone adenosine – which makes you feel sleepy. The effects of this include a disrupted sleep cycle and often heightened feelings of anxiety. Caffeine can be a useful supplement to the hectic university lifestyle when used cautiously – with benefits including increased productivity, alertness, and ability to concentrate. It seems as though many people who become dependent on caffeine are uneducated about its effects and become open to its damaging results.

To cure caffeine dependence, students should treat it as a gradual process to minimise the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. In the process of quitting, students should make an effort to stay well hydrated, set a daily time limit to not consume caffeine after, turn to decaf or low caffeine options such as tea so as not to disrupt your typical routine, increased exercise and taking the time to educate yourselves on the effects of caffeine dependency.

Katie Sullivan

Featured image courtesy of Mike Kenneally via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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