The Dangers of Caffeine

by Abbye Meyer | 10/30/98 6:00am

Obviously, people around here have not seen enough "Saved by the Bell." Lack of exposure to this quality television program has become apparent this week with an irreverent attitude towards a serious issue: the use of caffeine pills.

When Jessie Spano, still just a student at Bayside High School, found herself too stressed out over studying for geometry, acting as president of the student council and singing in her music group, she turned to caffeine pills for help.

Completely freaking out when Zack told her it was time to perform, Jessie cried on her friend's shoulder. "I'm so scared," she told him, no longer able to hide her panicked state.

Always the good friend, Zack helped Jessie realize that caffeine pills were only making her situation worse. Taking them would not give her the extra time she craved even just to wash her hair; they would only force her life into uncontrollable chaos.

After such an emotionally charged "Saved by the Bell" episode -- nearing the impact of a true after-school special -- most watchers receive the message loud and clear: no one needs to be perfect and trying to do too much, especially with the help of caffeine pills, will end in disaster.

However, the Dartmouth community as a whole seems to have missed this episode. On Monday and Tuesday, October 26 and 27, a team of market researchers provided students with packages of free samples of various health and grooming products, including caffeine pills.

Each student who picked up a box in Thayer received two doses of Vivarin "for fast pick-up," according to the packaging. Not only that, the fun sample box carried a coupon for the next purchase of Vivarin -- after we've all become addicted -- and a cute little pamphlet urging college and graduate students "to find a way to stay alert during classes and study for hours."

Although most students here are probably intelligent and mature enough to handle using or not using such a product, the sample boxes send out a potentially dangerous message.

Reading the small print on the package, we learn that "too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness and, occasionally, rapid heartbeat." The product is "for occasional use only," but the accompanying pamphlet sure seemed to suggest Vivarin as a necessary study aid.

Some students receiving the brightly-colored, appealing package may not realize the dangers associated with caffeine pills and may begin using the pills regularly, perhaps leading towards a situation like Jessie's.

Other students, much like Jason Allen, of Moorehead City, N.C., may take advantage of this availability of caffeine pills and agree to dangerous dares and games, perhaps leading towards death.

As reported by The Dartmouth just this week ["College student dies of caffeine overdose," Oct. 25], Allen, a 20-year-old college student, died after he was dared to swallow "dozens of caffeine pills."

Such a situation might be pretty rare, but is completely possible with all of the caffeine sitting around this campus right now.

Surely as I see the enormous pile of Coke cans sitting in my room, I cannot consider myself one opposed to caffeine. But it just seemed a little weird getting the pills in a box of otherwise harmless free samples.

Maybe that stems from my years of "Saved by the Bell" conditioning, but with the related death in the news, caffeine addiction and abuse appear to be very relevant issues.

I have friends and have heard of friends' friends who already sleep hours less than they should each night due to both studying and partying. While both are undeniable and unchangeable parts of life around here, caffeine pills will only encourage more stressful habits rather than suggest more sleep.

These free samples may not show up as causes in extreme tragedies in the near future, but problems could arise later.

I just hope I don't walk into my room some night to find my roommate wide awake and freaking out about not having enough time to wash her hair, prepare for a geometry test and perform in a concert. I don't think I'm as helpful and composed as Zack.