Regardless of the form in which it comes, everyone has their addiction. Don't believe me? Look deeper. Push all the good aside in the purest person you've ever met, and you're bound to find some vice. Some affinity or weakness that one knows is detrimental to their well-being, but just can't seem to shake. I know first-hand how impossible these tendencies are to purge, as I shamefully admit to you all that I, too, have an addiction of my own. No matter how hard I've tried to fight it, I'll always be drawn back to its seemingly rejuvenating effect. It is known for many crimes, ranging from the corrosion of teeth to the occasional, albeit fatal, overdose. It presents itself as a tool for productivity but sheds this mask once the restless soul it lures in becomes reliant on it. I speak, of course, about caffeine, a substance I can’t seem to quit despite the life-threatening experiences it has caused me.
As I would imagine, you scoffed when you read the word “caffeine.” Of all things one could be addicted to, I found the most pathetic one. Clearly, this isn’t a bad thing at all, in a comparative sense, at least, but it doesn’t make for a “Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas.” No, all I have to offer is a series of previously undocumented incidents where I found myself matter-of-factly saying, “Well, my heart’s never done that before,” or, “I guess I’m going to die soon.”
It’s unclear where the problem began, but I can recall an early urge to drink energy drinks and coffee in my preteen years. Think of the stereotypical 13-year-old boy: Rat-mustached, video-game obsessed and eager to feign maturity, often to the extent of swearing and drinking whatever sugary drinks they can get their hands on. While the classmates who teased me suited this archetype better than I did, I was certainly attracted to Monster energy drinks as much as the next kid and developed a pre-addictive craving around this time. Along with this new attachment of mine, I noticed that coffee had always been a staple in my household, and was quickly determined to drink that as much as possible, though I can say now that I thought it tasted awful at first. What began as a simple, innocent consumption soon lead to withdrawal, as my then preteen self would be prone to headaches and lethargy if I didn’t get my fix of caffeine each morning.
Even with the withdrawal, I didn’t consider my newfound affinity for caffeinated beverages as a strange thing. I figured that all kids my age chose to drink the stuff, so they must have fallen victim to the same cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It wasn’t until one particularly long night spent watching movies with a friend that I realized my addiction was more foreign than I originally thought. We decided to stay up past midnight and marathon several horror movies in his basement, with the aid of a six-pack of Red Bull I had purchased at a nearby gas station. The night went well for me, and I had no trouble comfortably falling asleep after three cans of the stuff. Luck wasn’t on my friend’s side, however, and he spent the rest of the night in the bathroom with an upset stomach, a notorious side effect of caffeine overdose. Needless to say, that friend still stays away from Red Bull well into adulthood. I wasn’t nearly as wise, and my addiction continued into high school.
While the aforementioned experience opened my eyes to caffeine being a problem, the slightly increased workload in high school and long hours I began to work at my restaurant job assured me that my addiction was justified. By the time I started high school, coffee had distinguished itself as a necessity in my morning routine, and Red Bull was a common post-work pick-me-up at the end of every night, whether or not I actually had a reason to stay up. This had a profound effect on my health and demeanor, as I would constantly either be shaking from withdrawal or from ingesting one-too-many cups of coffee and grew sick from the abundance of sugar and caffeine in my system. This, along with the regular cup of coffee, added another event to my morning routine: Fighting the urge to vomit on my way to school, but I still refused to give the substance up. I was a teenager, after all, and every peer of mine at the time drank an abundance of coffee as well, so living without it started to feel even more strange than the side-effects I was experiencing.
I knew caffeine was doing some damage to my body by the time I was 18 years old but always laughed at this notion, trusting too much in the resilience I had been graced with so far. What I didn’t expect, however, was that my addiction would lead to near-death experiences. Now, I realize that “near-death experiences” sounds rather extreme, and my caffeine-induced complications never landed me in a hospital, but it’s hard not to jump to conclusions when you feel your heart literally change its tempo as much as The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
I was at work the first time I experienced an overdose and had to end my shift early on account the symptoms of a surplus of coffee that morning. While trying to go about my work duties, I was struck with a sharp pain in my abdomen, a pain I was first able to shrug off for about an hour. After that hour of productivity, the pain increased to a degree I had never encountered before, and all focused on the right side of my stomach. This area made me certain of one thing: My appendix was about to burst. I informed my boss, who dismissed me immediately, and I hurried home. I’m still unsure of any correlation between caffeine addiction and the appendix, but I had been anticipating issues with my appendix for a while. I knew the severity of a burst appendix, but some foolish part of my conscience convinced me to refrain from going to the emergency room. I listened to this voice, ignored all the logic in the situation I was going through and decided to dance on the edge of death for a night. Well, that sounded too cool. What I really did was foolishly fall asleep despite the apparent fire ants in my stomach. The next morning, the pain was gone, and I never encountered it again.
Since I had been so lucky to avoid any real danger in the previous experience, I didn’t think to quit drinking caffeine. Several similar, albeit less intense, incidents followed, but I found myself developing a resistance to the substance. By the time I graduated high school, I found several cups of black coffee to be the only thing to actually wake me up and soon ditched 12-ounce Red Bulls in favor of 20-ounce ones. This upgrade didn’t affect me in any way for a long time, but I knew that I’d suffer eventually. The first red flag came when I visited the dentist for the first time in four years. After a cleaning filled with bloody gums and the striking of several nerves, the dentist revealed to me that I had eleven cavities scattered throughout my mouth. While I let him try to pull some explanation out of me, I knew my brushing habits weren’t the issue. The issue was the inhuman amount of caffeine and sugar running through my mouth every day. I found this ridiculously intense news entertaining but confirmed that I was, in fact, addicted to caffeine. Nothing changed, however, and the long, sleepless nights of college were on the horizon.
This brings my journey to one final near-fatal experience, which encountered just three weeks ago now. It was exam week at BGSU, and I expected to perform poorly. I only had three exams, but studied intensely for a week, staying up until 4 a.m. and sleeping for two hours with the help of copious amounts of caffeine. I had made the mistake of working the evening before my two of my finals, and decided to power through the night and do some last-minute cramming with the help of six cups of black coffee and thirty-two collective ounces of Red Bull. I drank all of this in one sitting and then proceeded to study until 3 a.m.
The studying went well, and I felt moderately confident about the exams now less than twelve hours away. I understood that, in order to retain my sanity, I would have to sleep for the three hours I had given myself. I laid down, closed my eyes, and drifted to sleep for a few moments. I jumped back awake and realized that my heart was beating faster than I had ever experienced before. I tried to remedy this with a few deep breaths, but these only made my heart vibrate, so I rolled to my side and tried to ignore the imminent heart attack, as I had done with my appendix. After a minute or so of shallow sleep, I jolted back awake again, this time from kicking my wall as a result of a muscle spasm. Several smaller muscles were quickly flexing and releasing at the time, which only increased the caffeine-induced panic I was already experiencing. After realizing that I was out of any options, and the stupidity that led to this emergency, I got up, looked into the mirror, and said to myself, “I’m going to die tonight.”
Yet here I am, looking back at this experience and laughing again. I did very well on my exams the next day, so some devil’s advocate in me wants to give some credit to the caffeine that almost killed me that night. Caffeine truly is my vice, and I understand that I would be wise to stop drinking it entirely. I’d like to end this narrative with some uplifting cliché like “I quit cold turkey,” but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t drink coffee every morning following that night and caved for some small cans of Red Bull.
I’d like to wean myself away from the stuff, but do I really see myself quitting anytime soon? Absolutely not. Everyone has their vice.