Drinking four cups of coffee a day is one thing. Abusing caffeine to excess is another one entirely. A new study from Northwestern University sought to highlight the dangers of using caffeine absentmindedly to get a buzz and stay awake.
In what researchers call the “first step in understanding the problem of caffeine abuse,” their study discovered 265 cases of caffeine abuse reported to a regional poison control center from 2001 to 2004. The findings, presented recently in New Orleans at an annual meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians, illustrated how caffeine is typically viewed as a food by all of us, and not as what it really is — a drug.
Now, this becomes a problem mostly for those individuals who decide to take caffeine pills and supplements, something that is too frequently done on a whim. The problem is that caffeine can react with any other medications you might be taking, whether they are conventional or alternative in nature.
The study looked at individuals ranging from 10 all the way to 64 years of age who were taking caffeine for an energy boost or a “high.” They found 31 people were hospitalized from caffeine-caused complications and 20 were admitted into intensive care. Overall, 12% of patients were hospitalized. Most had become sick due to the caffeine, although 81 people had been taking other pharmaceuticals as well that may have also caused some adverse reactions as well.
This is separate from the ongoing debate about whether or not coffee (and the caffeine it contains) is more health promoting than it is unhealthy. This is solely about caffeine taken in higher-than-necessary doses, which can be risky. Symptoms of possible abuse may include palpitations, tremors, excessive sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, chest pain, nausea, insomnia, and even some mental problems.
Anybody taking caffeine in order to stay awake — no matter what their age — could end up in the emergency room far more often than they think. Caffeine pills aren’t completely safe and any thoughts to the contrary may have an impact on one’s health. Notably, no patients in the study had simply had too much coffee or tea — it was caffeine pills, caffeine-spiked beverages, and caffeine supplements they had abused.