Prior to college, coffee was something that I occasionally enjoyed on the weekends when I made a trip to Starbucks. Even then, I would not classify the mocha Frappuccino as actual coffee. Once college began; however, I began consuming fairly large quantities of coffee, not to mention Red Bull and soda (but that is something I always drank). It happened gradually as I discovered that it worked to keep me up late to do homework or wake me up for my 8am classes. I did not realize how much I relied on caffeine until I began working on this project.

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After monitoring myself for three days and refraining from consuming any caffeine for two days, I was able to extrapolate some interesting patterns. As far as coffee use, I noticed that I used it most in the mornings, especially before early classes or after I had stayed up very late. I also noticed having it midafternoon, especially if I ran into any friends. The soda I only drank with a meal, like lunch or dinner. The Red Bull I drank one night when I had procrastinated a project and needed to stay up very late to finish it. There was also an interesting patters that developed between the Red Bull and the coffee: When I stayed up late and drank Red Bull to stay awake, I would also need the coffee in the morning the day after in order to wake up.

When I stopped consuming the caffeine altogether, I noticed a number of very unpleasant symptoms: headaches, irritability, fatigue, lethargy, concentration problems, and feeling somewhat down. I had a few friends that new about this project, whom I asked to be my supporters if they saw me close to “relapse.” In fact, one friend took on the challenge with me, so it made it much easier. When the headaches came; however, I did take Advil sometimes to relieve the pain and I also took naps when I got tired. I looked up the ingredients in Advil and it does not contain caffeine. After this experience, I do feel somewhat differently about caffeine because it has shown me that it is addicting like other drugs. Even though it is legal, a person can still become addicted and experience negative effects when the caffeine intake is stopped.

If caffeine was made illegal, I would not choose to take it anymore based on the mere fact that I do not condone breaking the law. In fact, even though it is not illegal now, I plan to cut down because of the fact that it can become addicting. I realized that I do not want to be dependent on anything.

The general process of addiction can be categorized into three phases: 1) Acquisition and maintenance of nicotine-taking behavior; 2) Withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of nicotine intake; and 3) Vulnerability of relapse. The neural pathway involves the limbic system (which contains dopamine neurons), which is the reward system in the brain and is activated during pleasurable experiences. External substances (such as caffeine) can activate this system, which induces a heightened high. The drug-induced reward is so strong that the person begins to crave that high feeling, and thus the cycle of addiction begins. Repeated usages can actually change the structure of the brain and neurons, which decreases the pleasure. This leads to tolerance and more of the substance is now needed in order to achieve the same high. When the body no longer has the substance, the person feels withdrawal because the body has become physically dependent upon it.