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Study shows caffeine pill abuse among college students

By Benjamin Baxter
The Collegian

Though a recent Northwestern University study found more than 250 cases of caffeine pill abuse at a single Chicago clinic, Fresno State students may not be part of the craze.


“I have had students come in, saying they’re having caffeine pills, but I haven’t seen it too often,” said nutritionist Stephanie Morris, who works at the Student Health Center. “I do see in my own experience that people get into bad problems, bad habits with caffeine.”


One potential habit is the use of caffeine as a study aid.


“I don’t use caffeine too much,” said music senior Colleen Boyle, “but I had a large project to do yesterday, so I needed to stay up all last night. Three Red Bulls later, I was awake all night. I haven’t been to bed since 7 a.m. yesterday.”


The Northwestern Study found that in the cases of caffeine supplement abuse, the average age of the patient was 21. Twelve percent of the cases required hospitalization.


“What people don’t realize is that the half-life of caffeine is about six hours,” Morris said. “It takes about six hours for half of the caffeine to get out of your system. Once you’re done with your test or your class, it doesn’t just magically disappear.”


“It wakes me up,” said Lindsay Leonard. “I need it. I love it. It helps at the time and you’re on the high for a little bit, but you hit a really low low.”


In fact, the effects of caffeine can last far past that next test. “It can interfere with sleep,” Morris said.

“Some people have tried to use it as a substitute for sleep, but it’s not the same for the body.”


And just because some forms of caffeine aren’t synthetic doesn’t mean they are safe. “Some people get caffeine from herbs thinking that it’s natural,” Morris said. “It’s natural, but so is arsenic.”


Because it acts as a stimulant, heavy use of caffeine supplements may inhibit the ability of the body to tell if there is too much alcohol in your system, she said. This can lead to hospitalization or death.


Though healthy eating can affect how awake you are, it isn’t necessarily the problem. “Some students make good choices,” Morris said. “It’s just timing. Some students having one big meal a day. All this week that’s been the problem [with students I’ve been advising].”


The food pyramid, dispersed throughout the day, is key in staying awake in classes. “It’s not terribly exciting, but just follow the basic healthy eating guidelines,” she said.


Taking vigorous study breaks and having a healthy amount of daily exercise can also help students stay awake.


Electrical engineering junior Chris Ornesto keeps awake when studying by taking breaks every now and then.


“I feel that drinking coffee to stay awake doesn’t really help me,” Ornesto said. “Caffeine pretty much doesn’t affect me at all.”

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