Opinion: College hyperproductivity culture normalizes caffeine addiction

In the city that never sleeps, students will do anything to stay awake.


Irum Han

(Irum Han for WSN)

Manami Yamano, Contributing Writer

Every morning, hundreds of NYU students stop at Pret A Manger, Starbucks, or any one of the other countless coffee chains in the city to purchase their constant companion and faithful friend:  a comforting cup of coffee. I’m the first to admit that I can’t imagine my existence without it, but it’s easy to forget that just because every person you see walking next to you on the street is already on their fourth cup of joe, the drink might be doing more harm than good.

Few things bring college students together the same way coffee does, besides mutual stress and fear of failing your classes. The reality of coffee’s addictive side effects often get pushed aside in service of hustle culture. While entrenched in a coffee shop study date, students may forget that caffeine can have lasting and damaging effects on the brain, and, in large doses, can cause anxiety, nausea, increased heart rate and difficulty focusing. 

Caffeine Use Disorder is a pattern that consists of a person’s unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control caffeine use, despite their knowledge that it worsens physical or psychological issues. The disorder also comes with symptoms of withdrawal. The World Health Organization now recognizes caffeine dependence as a clinical disorder.

Too preoccupied with exams and social obligations, many students do not know — nor care — whether what they are consuming is at all beneficial to their health. Sho Ishizaki, a sophomore, says that he wouldn’t be the same without his morning Americano with three shots of espresso, and the occasional two or three extra doses of coffee in the afternoon. 

“I would rather be five minutes late to my class than not drink coffee at all,” Ishizaki said. “I don’t really care about the negative health risks. I literally drink coffee instead of water.”

Thanks to his Pret A Manger coffee subscription, which lets users consume up to five drinks a day for a monthly fee of as little as $25, Ishizaki consumes coffee religiously — he’s always walking around New York City with a cup of coffee in his hand. He explained that easy access to coffee in the city ignited his transformation into a coffee enthusiast. 

Cynthia Liu, another sophomore I spoke to, said her caffeine consumption increased since she moved to New York. She usually starts her weekdays with two double shots of espresso and one large cold brew. She never goes a week without it, to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which she described as similar to those of a hangover. Without coffee, Liu’s body feels heavier, and she experiences chronic migraines and brain fog — which she says affects her ability to go about her day.

What students like Ishizaki and Liu might not know is that high and sustained caffeine consumption can impair students’ ability to think clearly without the drink over time. In a study published in ScienceDirect, researchers warned that the pressures of a demanding work schedule can lead to the development of sleep disorders and an inability to regulate emotions without a morning cup of coffee. 

For college students, academic pressure — as well as the romanticization and normalization of coffee addiction — can often overshadow the fact that caffeine is a drug. Unhealthy levels of consumption go unnoticed under the pretense of preparing for midterms. Students are destroying their bodies in order to meet pressures to be successful, and no one is batting an eye.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Manami Yamano at [email protected].