Finals week is a time of the year where most SRU students push their bodies to unhealthy limits to cope with stress through all-nighters at the library, cramming information over short periods of time and the use of drugs to force the body to stay awake. The most common drug being used is caffeine.
Kris Benkeser, Director of the McLachlan Health Center, said that caffeine can be a friend of the body, while also being an enemy of the body.
Benkeser said that caffeine is a stimulant meaning it boosts energy and metabolism, but that there is a fine line between drinking a cup of coffee every now and then and consuming caffeine on a daily basis.
She said that excess caffeine induces anxiety, causes thoughts to race throughout the mind and causes mental disorganization. Caffeine also dehydrates the body and causes deprivation of sleep.
“Caffeine makes you more alert and it interferes with the R.E.M. sleep cycle,” she said. “For students, caffeine isn’t your friend.”
Benkeser said that students who consume a lot of caffeine have reported not remembering information after they studied for a long period of time. She explained that this is because caffeine doesn’t allow information to stick with the long term memory because it forces you to stay awake.
She said it’s better to study without caffeine consumption, get a good night’s sleep and then wake up and review the information.
Benkeser said that around this time of year, the Health Center always sees at least one or two patients who are in really severe condition from drinking too much caffeine and that these students require emergency care.
Some students gain energy from drinking excess energy drinks during finals week. Benkeser said that the average energy drink is equivalent to six or seven cups of coffee. She said this causes extreme alertness and extreme jitters. Energy drinks contain anywhere between 50 to 500 milligrams of sugar.
“The crash from them [energy drinks] is horrible,” she explained. “Your body is not meant to be on high alert all day long.”
Benkeser explained caffeine withdrawal comes with symptoms like headaches, upset stomach and irritability.
Renee Bateman is the Health Promotion Coordinator for the Health Center and she said her main concerns with caffeine in the college setting are caffeine being abused during high times of stress and the mixture of caffeine and alcohol during college parties.
Four Loko was a premixed alcoholic drink that fuses alcohol and energy drinks. Benkeser explained that the company that produced Four Loko, as well as other companies who produced similar drinks, stopped the production and selling of these types of drinks because the companies didn’t want to be liable for the damage that the drinks do to the body.
“You have these drinks that are being pulled off of the shelves because they aren’t safe,” Benkeser said. “What makes you think it will be safe to make this kind of stuff at home?”
Bateman said the problem is alcohol is a depressant and caffeine is a stimulant.
“A lot of the time when people drink them together, they clash together,” she said.
Bateman said that students who have consumed these two drugs together have reported experiencing blackouts after only drinking one drink.
Bateman also explained that there is a possible correlation between caffeine abuse and depression and anxiety. She said that anxiety and depression are in the top 40 diagnoses of the health center.
She said there are other, more natural, ways for students to gain energy for finals week aside from abusing caffeine, like exercising, eating healthy, establishing a study pattern and establishing a sleep pattern.
Carina Iannarelli, junior theater and communication major, has been a barista at the SRU Starbucks since August of 2014. She said she sees some students multiple times a day and some students are surprised when she remembers them.
“I’m good with names in general and people are scared when I know their name,” she said. “They often ask ‘how’d you know my name’ and I’ll reply to them ‘well I just saw you a little bit ago.’ People get even more scared when I remember their drink order.”
She explained the main method of payment at Starbucks is by ‘Flex.’ She said once students run out of Flex to spend, they use gift cards more frequently.
“Starbucks would definitely lose business if students couldn’t pay with their Flex,” she said.
Iannarelli said Starbucks at SRU is crazy during finals week because sales and promotions are happening to get students to buy their products. From her experience, she believes the most popular drink at Starbucks is not coffee, but a caramel macchiato.
“I don’t really think that caffeine consumption is a concern here,” she said. “The job description [of a barista] is to connect with people, so I understand why students come to Starbucks. I’m sure it’s [caffeine consumption] is just as bad as anywhere else.”
Assistant English professor Timothy Oldakowski said that for the most part, he identifies as a caffeine addict. He said he spends around $200 per semester on caffeine.
“I don’t have to start my day with it [caffeine] every day, but I like to,” he said.
Oldakowski said that he believes his love for caffeine began when he started college as a freshman. He explained that he lived in a dormitory that had males on one side and females on the other, but that the males weren’t allowed on the female side and the females weren’t allowed on the male side.
“We would meet in the middle of the dorm and just drink coffee because it was there and it seemed to be an adult thing to do,” he said.
He explained that he commutes an hour to get to SRU and that when he is in his office, he likes to do his work while drinking coffee. He said that he prefers iced coffee and that he can drink it six out of 12 months.
He said that even when he is at home working, it is simply a routine to go to a coffee shop or brew coffee at home.
Mandy Feldbauer, junior criminal justice major, identifies as a caffeine addict. She said that her addiction began when she came to college and was exposed to Starbucks. She said that she is from Elk County, Pennsylvania, which she explained as one of the smallest parts of the state. She said she spends about $250 on caffeine per semester.
“We don’t have Starbucks in Elk County,” she said. “I got Starbucks everyday with my Flex because it was so new to me.”
She said that when she went home on weekends that she would have to find something similar to Starbucks, which is why she started drinking Red Bull.
“I started bringing Red Bull to school because I liked the taste of it so much and SRU doesn’t sell Red Bull on campus,” Feldbauer said.
Feldbauer said that this semester she has cut down on her Red Bull consumption to save money and to help with her depression and anxiety. She said she went from drinking about five per week to about one. She said that she has really severe withdrawal symptoms.