Caffeine, as a culture we’re more addicted to it than ever.  Whether it’s coffee, soft drinks or energy drinks we consume a lot of caffeine.  Plus it seems that younger and younger people are getting addicted at alarming rates.  Energy drinks are targeted at younger demographics than just your normal coffee drinkers.  I for one am one of those addicts that fumbles around every morning like a zombie until I’ve had my morning coffee. 

So what’s your caffeine medium of choice?  There are a lot to choose from, and I like to get mine from a variety of sources.  The delivery system changes with my mood usually.  Not wanting to become my parents, I refuse to drink coffee from sunrise to sunset and prefer my java only in the morning.  With a Starbucks on every corner, it’s much easier for me to get my fix; although I have had to beg for change on a few occasions in order to get my Red Eye.  Come afternoon I become a soda junkie and I even have a mini-frig near my computer that I keep constantly stocked with a variety of my favorite sodas.

When it comes to sodas, I have been forced in recent years to the diet side of the fence.  Yeah the regular ones taste so much better; but if you are like most nerds and not very active besides regular trips to Gamestop or the local comic book store, then sugary sodas aren’t recommended.  I’ve always been a Pepsi man myself, but I will drink just about anything.  When Mountain Dew started putting out different flavors directly aimed at gamers I was all over that.  Isn’t it funny how marketing works and how they are so successful at targeting the core audience?

In recent years caffeine has popped up in everything.  Energy drinks, breath mints, you can even get soap infused with it.  It’s been a staple in chocolate bars for years and years.  ThinkGeek has an entire section of products dedicated to caffeine.  Hell some people kill two birds with one stone.  When they go for their regular body cleansing enema they use coffee and have it squirted directly up their ass where their body can more easily absorb the caffeine.  What is all this caffeine doing to our bodies?  Normally it blocks receptors in your brain that tells you when it’s time to sleep.  But what can happen if you take in too much?  A very interesting question since I consume a lot of it every day.  I put my detective hat on and went digging around for answers.

According to moderate caffeine use is considered to be 200 to 300 milligrams or around 2 to 4 cups of coffee.  Heavy use is considered to be 500 to 600 milligrams or 4 to 7 cups.  10 cups a day is considered to be excessive.  Heavy to excessive use can cause a number of health issues.  Caffeine causes the  firing of neurons in your brain to produce adrenalin, which is the heightened or alert state you feel.  When the effect wears off, you “crash” and can feel even more tired than before.  Excessive consumption causes your adrenal glands to be pushed into a state called adrenal exhaustion.  Your adrenal glands become overworked and have to struggle to produce adrenalin.  This can lead to fatigue, irritability or confusion.  Over time these conditions can lead to insomnia, nausea or other gastrointestinal problems, irregular heartbeat, headaches, anxiety, muscle tremors and depression.

Think you’re not addicted?  Just one 14 ounce mug of coffee a day, even though it is considered moderate use is enough to produce withdrawal symptoms in a short time.  When you experience withdrawal symptoms, you are addicted.  Caffeine is a drug and like any drug small amounts at first are enough to get the desired effect.  But over time it takes more and more to get your body to feel the effects and that is addiction.  Although you aren’t likely to hold up a convenience store to get your “fix”, the overall effects on your body are harmful.

So how do you get off the caffeine roller coaster?  Experts say that quitting cold turkey isn’t the best method.  They suggest you cut back gradually reducing the amount you consume.  One less cup of coffee or can of soda will help your body adjust and lessen the withdrawal symptoms.  Letting tea brew for less time will cut down on the amount of caffeine or switching to herbal teas which do not have it.  Read the labels on products you buy; many foods don’t list caffeine as an ingredient; even some pain relievers contain 130 milligrams in a single dose.  There is also caffeine free coffee and sodas if you just have to maintain the illusion.  But they aren’t 100 percent free of caffeine so be careful.

I probably burst the bubble of many gamers out there who like me consume a massive amount of sodas and coffee.  I have to admit that I was a little sad and quite shocked when I found out what I’ve been doing to myself all these years.  Cutting back seems like the responsible thing to do right now because probably like a lot of you out there, I can list a few conditions I suffer from right now that are most likely related to my excessive caffeine consumption.  But don’t go home and start pouring all your Mountain Dew down the drain just yet.  Remember that gradually reducing your intake will help easy those withdrawals.

So is caffeine evil?  I’d like to think that it isn’t.  But just like everything else, we take it to the extreme.  I’d like to think that companies like Starbucks didn’t set out to intentionally addict us to a drug that has been proven to be bad for us.  Facts are fact however and everyone involved had to know that something bad was bound to happen when a single individual consumed enough of their product meant for 4 average people.  As with tobacco there seems to be an inheritant lack of responsibility when it comes to acknowledging their product may be harmful.  I love coffee and sodas, they taste good, they make me feel good; doesn’t that sound familiar?

What it all comes down to is too much of anything isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Am I going to kick caffeine entirely?  Probably not, but what I will do is train myself to exercise a little self control and take it in moderation.  It will be hard to get use to not having a tall, frosty glass of soda next to me while I am gaming; and old habits are hard to break.  Maybe I will replace it with beer.