The Impact of Caffeine on College Students

Statistics from a sample of the UW-Platteville student population

Caffeine has become a very normal substance to consume over the decades, from casual coffee shop dates, the classic “morning coffee,” coffee shop studying and more. It’s a common substance and yet when it comes to caffeine’s pros and cons how much is it actually helping if at all with mental focus and alertness?
Survey Results: In October 2020, 57 students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville were surveyed on their caffeine consumption and whether they thought it impacted them positively or negatively.
Many questions were asked about the amount of caffeine they consumed; money spent; when, how and why it was consumed; how it affected their study times, energy levels, physical health and mental health; and if they have a desire to change their habits.
When asked whether they thought caffeine was a positive, neutral or negative substance, 27 students (48.2%) reported neutral, 15 students (26.8%) reported positive, 6 students (10.7%) reported negative and 8 students (14.3%) reported “other” with comments on why.
Consumption: Out of the students surveyed, 50 students (87.7%) reported that they consumed caffeine, five students (8.8%) reported that they did not and two students (3.5%) responded “maybe.”
Level of Consumption: The average student consumed roughly 209 milligrams of caffeine daily, a little over two cups of coffee. Ten students (17.9%) consumed less than 100 milligrams, 21 students (37.5%) consumed between 100 and 200 milligrams, 13 students (23.2%) consumed between 200 and 300 milligrams, eight students (14.3%) consumed between 300 and 400 milligrams, two students (3.6%) consumed between 400 and 500 milligrams and two students (3.6%) consumed over 500 milligrams.
Source of Consumption: While the source of caffeine varied, coffee was the most popular option. When asked to select all forms of caffeine the students consumed, 34 students (61.8%) selected coffee, 30 students (54.5%) selected soda, 21 students (38.2%) selected energy drinks, six students (10.9%) selected pre-workout, six students (10.9%) selected tea and 5 students (9.1%) selected bars.
Time of Consumption: The students were asked to select all the times they consumed caffeine. Of those polled, students (74.1%) selected the morning, 37 students (68.5%) selected the afternoon and 28 students (51.9%) selected the evening/night.
Reasons for Consumption: The students were then asked why they consumed caffeine. Of those polled, 28 students (56%) claimed to consume it for the energy boost, 17 students (24%) claimed to consume it for the taste and five students (10%) claimed to consume it because of habit/withdrawal symptoms without it.
One student commented, “It’s my life energy. It helps me function as a whole.” Another reported, “I don’t get enough sleep and I have sh*t to get done,” who also said caffeine raised their anxiety levels. One student even said the reason they consumed caffeine is because it’s a replacement for their unaffordable ADD meds.
When asked why some students don’t consume caffeine, one student stated, “I don’t like using substances that make me dependent on them to live.” Another said, “I don’t think quite as logically when I have caffeine.”
Study Times: When asked how caffeine affects when they can or can’t do homework or study, the general consensus was that it has no effect. Of those polled, 16 students (41.03%) reported it doesn’t have an effect, 14 students (35.9%) reported that it helps them accomplish their homework, six students (15.38%) reported that they have to rush to finish their homework because otherwise they’ll have a caffeine crash and three students (7.69%) reported that it hurts their concentration.
Many students who deal with caffeine crashes reported things like “it usually means I need to work on homework earlier before my caffeine wears out,” “I get really productive, and feel a bit tired after an hour,” “I need caffeine all the time, if I don’t have caffeine I can’t study because I get headaches” and “caffeine helps at first but then wears off after a few hours while doing homework or studying.”
One student who said it doesn’t affect when they can study also said it “messes with my sleep.”
Finances: The students were also asked how much money they spend on caffeine a week, and they averaged about $8.33 a week on caffeine. That’s equivalent to $33.33 a month, and almost $400 a year. Of those polled, 41 students (71.9%) spent less than $10 a week, 13 students (22.8%) spent between $10 and $20 a week and 3 students (5.3%) spent between $20 and $30 a week.
Withdrawal: When asked how students felt when they went a day without caffeine, it was a close margin between the students who felt fine versus the students who experienced withdrawal. Of those polled, 25 students (58.14%) claimed that they felt normal, whereas 18 students (41.86%) claimed some degree of withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue and headaches. Out of the 25 students who drink over 200 milligrams a day, 14 students (56%) reported withdrawal symptoms when going a day without caffeine.
Anxiety/Stress Levels: When asked how their caffeine habits affected their anxiety/stress levels, 30 students (53.6%) responded that their habits didn’t affect them, 14 students (25%) were unsure, six students (10.7%) reported that they raised them, five students (8.9%) reported that they lowered them and one student (1.8%) said it depends.
Desires to Change: The students were then asked if they had a desire to change their caffeine habits. Of those polled, 28 students (84.85%) reported that they had no desire to change them and 5 students (15.15%) reported that they did desire to change them.
On the side of “desire to change,” students commented such things as, “yes, drink less soda and more water,” “yes I want to drink less caffeine because it isn’t good for me and I want to cut back slowly” and “yeah because soda and coffee shouldn’t be consumed as often.”
On the side of “no desire to change,” students commented things such as, “I need it to actually function because health insurance is stupid,” “no, it’s just my life now” and “nope, never. Coffee is one of my favorite things. As someone who works a lot and has a lot on my daily plate, it helps to get things done and still have time to do the things I want.”
Addiction: The students were then asked if they believed they had a caffeine addiction. Out of 56 students, 39 students (69.6%) responded “no,” 10 students (17.9%) responded “yes” and seven students responded “maybe.”
However, out of the 39 students who claimed to not have an addiction, seven students (17.95%) did admit to having withdrawal symptoms if they go a day without coffee, and out of the 10 students who claimed to have an addiction, only eight of the students (80%) admitted to having withdrawal symptoms.
Overall, the students expressed that there are benefits and drawbacks to consuming caffeine, especially when someone is consuming large amounts. Caffeine is not inherently bad; however, each individual must consider dosages, times of consumption, and consider their mental health before developing such a habit. As one student reported, “As anything, it depends on the amount consumed rather than the substance itself.”