The Colossal Caffeine Crisis

Luke Park ’24 (Executive Editor, 143rd Board) in Opinions | October 7, 2022

Early one morning, I was cramming for a geometry exam when I smelled something that could only be described as a mixture of grapefruit and battery acid. Turning toward the scent, I saw one of my friends sipping a can of Monster Energy. Perhaps sensing that I was tired, she offered me a sip, and although I was taken aback by the drink’s unusual scent,the garish neon greens, and vantablacks that adorned its can, I drank about half of it out of curiosity. Though I didn’t feel anything at first, I soon got a sudden burst of uncontrollable energy, and I rode this wave of alertness through my next three classes that morning.
Later that day, I threw up in the toilet.
Given how horrible my first experience with caffeine was, I made a pact with myself to shun all coffee and energy drinks forever. Caffeine made me feel sick—and beyond that, I figured that if I would ever need to substitute a good night's rest with a cup of coffee or an energy drink, something must have gone deeply wrong. Yet today, I find myself almost reliant on caffeine—and I wonder if quitting is even possible.
I start off the vast majority of my mornings with a vanilla cream cold brew ordered straight from the Starbucks on Main Street. If I need an extra boost in the afternoon, I put a few drops of energy drink formula in my water bottle, take a swig, and continue my day. On particularly stressful or busy nights, I'll even order an extra cup of coffee to keep myself going for the next three or four hours as I study for tests or grind my way through projects due the following morning. In short, caffeine rules my life.
But I can't help it. After all, caffeine is extremely useful. With caffeine, I can remain alert in spite of late-night study sessions, and get a much-needed boost of energy for my morning classes. If I really need sleep, I can simply fend off my drowsiness with some coffee and catch up on sleep later in the day during my free period or after extracurriculars. Caffeine has helped me prepare for more major assignments than I’d like to admit. Caffeine seems like the ultimate academic weapon; you get to reap the benefits of late-night studying and early-morning cramming. There's no way around it—considering Lawrenceville’s academic rigor, without coffee, energy drinks, and caffeine supplements, I probably wouldn’t be able to handle my current workload.
But while caffeine offers a great degree of convenience, it’s also accompanied by a handful of side effects that hurt you both in the short and long term. While it stimulates the central nervous system to give you a boost of energy, caffeine can also increase anxiety, heighten blood pressure, and interfere with your body's ability to take in calcium—an issue of great personal risk considering my family's history with osteoporosis. Excessive caffeine consumption also causes digestive issues, muscle breakdown, and insomnia, especially when consumed later in the afternoon. While the majority of these symptoms only arise from excessive consumption caffeine, a far more prevalent side effect is that of caffeine tolerance and withdrawal. In stark contrast to my first experience with energy drinks, my caffeine tolerance has climbed so high that a whole can of Monster has no effect on me anymore. The inverse is also true—I feel even more exhausted than usual without caffeine, so much so that on days when I don’t drink coffee, I spend the majority of my mornings paralyzed, unable to accomplish anything. There is no win-win situation with caffeine; in the long run, you always have to give up something for that energy boost.
So why don’t I just quit? If caffeine is so harmful, why don’t I just stop drinking coffee and energy drinks altogether? It's harder than you might think. As mentioned previously, caffeine has helped me fight through some of my most demanding weeks at Lawrenceville—and this isn’t an issue unique to me. Starbucks is constantly filled with Lawrentians craving that quick boost of energy to get them through the day, which ties into my second point: Caffeine is extremely easy to access on campus. Whether it’s from the coffee dispensers in Tsai Commons, the drinks at the Bath House Café, the energy drinks from TJ’s, or the local Starbucks, caffeine is almost always available to students, to the point where it’s almost harder to not end up drinking coffee at least once at Lawrenceville. Surprisingly, from either Lawrenceville’s taxing schedule, the ease of access to caffeine, or some combination of both factors, a culture of caffeine consumption arises. There's a sense of community in caffeine. When you see someone drinking coffee in the morning, you not only find a reason to justify your own caffeine consumption but also find a sort of understanding in it—knowing that others are just as fatigued as you makes that morning coffee almost seem like a nod of solidarity.
Yet living without caffeine, in spite of how necessary it seems at times, is ultimately entirely possible. In a lot of ways, caffeine is really just a crutch for a lack of sleep, poor time management, overly strenuous commitments, or some combination of all three, meaning that once we directly address these problems, it is entirely possible to work through Lawrenceville without caffeine consumption. Some Lawrentians adopt alternative sleep schedules or work schedules to adapt to the challenges that Lawrenceville poses. For example, one of my friends goes to bed around 9:00 PM and wakes up at 5:00 AM to finish his homework while also getting eight hours of sleep. I've also been experimenting with the Pomodoro Technique—a study method that balances focused, uninterrupted study with several brief breaks—in order to get my assignments done. Though I'm usually prone to procrastination, I find that this method helps me immensely; similar study techniques could help you deal with your tasks without relying heavily on caffeine. And if your extracurricular commitments are weighing on you, sometimes it's a good idea to take a step back and breathe. Your success in life isn’t defined by how many leadership positions you can snag; if you feel like your commitments demand a heavy intake of caffeine, maybe dropping a club or two isn't a bad idea. 
The bottom line is that caffeine is no replacement for a healthy work and sleep schedule. Though it might help us study overnight for our Honors class assessments or help us stay alert during our A Period classes, relying excessively on caffeine can end up doing more harm than good. Caffeine isn’t a sustainable solution to burnout or stress; it’s a short-term band aid solution that’s bound to fail us eventually. Our health is more important than our GPAs, athletic commitments, and leadership positions; let's not drag our bodies through the mud for a vanilla cream cold brew.