PHOTO CAPTION: Seniors (left to right) Matt Beder, Sam Holland, Hailey Halverson, and Shannon Durkee all drink iced coffees during first block on a recent Monday. Durkee gets coffee every morning before school. “I rely on coffee to get through the day. I usually get one after school too,” she said. (Photo by Anneliese Ziegenbein)

By Anneliese Ziegenbein

Take a walk through Andover High School and more than half of the students and teachers you pass will be carrying a coffee from either Ultimate Perk, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Perfectos. These days, it seems as though coffee runs through the veins of more than half of the student body, continuously pumping out six hours of focus on a 180-day loop.

The routine of most high school students likely follows a fairly similar, if not identical, pattern: wake up, get ready for school, pack your bag…don’t forgot your lunch, your phone, and, of course, leave ample time to grab a coffee on your way. And if you’re feeling a little ambitious, like senior Cathy Sie, junior Emily Grady, or me, perhaps you’ll get another on your way home.

Mrs. Breen, a health teacher at Andover High, did not begin drinking coffee until fairly recently. Now, she said, “I drink a cup of coffee everyday… I was 43 when I was getting my masters, being a mom, a full-time student, and working full-time. I needed a little energy, so I started drinking coffee.”

In part, she attributes her habit to the community and routine that she has adapted to. “I go every morning either to The Perk or Heavenly in North Andover,” she said. “I love that I walk in, they say hello to me, they know my name, they know my order. It’s a little bit more about that community experience and it’s become a part of my morning routine.”

However, she admitted, I definitely get a headache if I don’t drink it, so that to me is that I’ve built up a tolerance for it and I need it. It’s like a withdrawal symptom.”

Having a lot on one’s plate can come at the expense of a significant amount of energy. When there’s little time to hit pause and rest, people tend to replenish that energy with caffeine. This was certainly the case for Breen, and I’d say that it applies to myself as well.

Personally, my biggest time consumer is homework. On an average school night, I stay up until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. doing homework and run on four to five hours of sleep per day. I compensate for a lack of energy with a much-needed iced coffee every morning. If I do not fulfill my need for coffee, I get headaches and I have trouble staying focused and awake in class.

I know I’m not alone. My habits raise questions about the driving factors of other students’ coffee consumption. Are they drinking an excessive amount of coffee too? Could it be for reasons similar to mine or Mrs. Breen’s?

 

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AHS senior Emily Wagner purchases a coffee from Ultimate Perk on a recent Monday morning before heading to school. (Photo by Anneliese Ziegenbein)

The transition to high school certainly comes with an increased workload, and it often consumes more time than students are formerly adjusted to. Breen remarked, “I think that most teens at AHS are sleep deprived…. We are fast to turn to a drug to fix things that we should really be dealing with, so we deal with sleep deprivation with coffee…. They go to caffeine to help wake them up a little bit.”

 

A healthy amount of sleep for the average teenager is between eight and ten hours. Conversely, most of the students I spoke with have trouble reaching six or seven hours of sleep per night.

Senior Cathy Sie said, “On a school night, I typically get about four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half hours of sleep depending on how much homework I have. School work is one of the main factors that affects my sleep.”

As a senior this problem can be heightened by the demanding college application process. Sie concluded, “Stress and my workload motivate me to stay awake and get things done,” and coffee is what keeps her going.

Senior Rachel Giunta said, “I get about six to seven hours of sleep, because I often have to stay up late to finish homework.” She followed up, saying, “I get iced coffee most mornings to get enough energy for the day.”

Junior Emily Grady shared similar circumstances in regards to her sleeping habits and, as a result, remarked, “It’s part of my morning routine to stop and get coffee so it has become a habit of mine.”

For some of the students I spoke to, a cup of coffee was just enough to get them through the school day. But, when we leave school, our work is not done. Lots of students at Andover High School are involved in school sports, participate in extracurricular activities, or have jobs. And after all of that comes homework. To power through these obligations, some students get a second coffee.

Grady said, “I get it once in the morning and usually after school as well…. I would definitely say I’m addicted to coffee.” Sie shares the same habit, and said, “On average I drink coffee twice a day. One before school and one after.” I admit that I follow the same coffee schedule as well.

So we’ve established that high school students often use coffee to keep them going. That should be a positive thing, right? We’ve found an easy source of quick energy! Or is it? This excessive coffee intake raises questions about the effects of coffee.

Thankfully, Mrs. Breen can help us unpack this concern. “If a teenager drinks a minimal amount of coffee, and I believe the recommended amount is 100 mg, then it’s not really going to do too much to their development…  that’s like one coffee a day or less,” said Breen. Based on my discussions with the above students, it seems that people are certainly consuming more than 100 mg if they have two coffees a day.

In regards to overconsumption, Breen says, “It might cause them to lose calcium, or it could cause bone loss at some point. It can also affect their sleep if they’re drinking coffee too late in the day… It can also cause an increased heart rate and dehydration.”

We now know that caffeine can be problematic when consumed in large amounts. Now consider that many students get hitched on this habit when they’re fairly young. Junior Kate Lyons said, “I started drinking coffee around when I was 13 or 14.” Grady said, “I started drinking coffee in seventh grade.” Sie got hooked as she transitioned into freshman year. Giunta and senior Matt Beder both said their habits began in their sophomore years. Beder added, “I started infrequently drinking coffee freshman year and more regularly sophomore year.”

Between eighth grade and freshman year, I began drinking coffee here and there when I could either convince my parents to let me or sneak it when out with friends. Now I drink it every day. As much as I hate to admit it, for the sole purpose of avoiding an “I told you so” from my parents, it adds up… I guess you could say I’m addicted to coffee too.