Ritual, flavor, energizer or addiction: Weighing the pros and cons of avid coffee drinking

National Coffee Day was on Sept. 29 and, to celebrate, coffee chains and fast food restaurants gave away steaming cups of joe. What has America raving about coffee?

Brad Gambill, associate professor of English, agreed that coffee is an everyday beverage.

“I started drinking coffee when I was 19, so I’ve been drinking for 31 years,” Gambill said.

Jonathan Himes, also an associate professor of English, said he has been drinking coffee regularly since graduate school.

“Just drinking it black usually, but with café mochas for fun,” he said. “I’m instant human, just add coffee.”

Lucky Tran, doctor of molecular biology at Cambridge, wrote an article titled, “14 Surprising Facts about Caffeine, Explained by Science” for liberal news website

Included in his 14 facts about caffeine are: it only takes about 10 minutes for caffeine to kick in, and coffee is full of antioxidants that protect bodies from damaging chemicals called “free radicals,” which cause aging and are associated with heart disease.

Coffee helps you stay alert when you start to get drowsy, just don’t overdo it. Tran emphasized that, in moderation, coffee is actually pretty good for you.

“It gives me energy, alertness and good digestion,” Himes said. “I keep hearing about recent studies that say coffee drinkers live longer, that drinking coffee actually does count toward your daily intake of water and so on.”

“The recent research, at least the studies in online media, seems to stress the health benefits,” Himes said.

To Gambill, though, drinking coffee is mostly a routine. “Its helpfulness, if you will, is secondary for me at this point in my life,” he said. “It’s as much for the ritual as anything.”

Studies by The New England Journal of Medicine show that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases. To benefit from drinking coffee, like with any other aspect of a healthy diet, one must maintain other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, such as avoiding smoking, drinking and staying away from large portions of red meat.

Tom McKay, a Live News columnist for, writes, “According to a new study in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, a dose of caffeine after a learning session boosts long-term memory and retention.”

While studies continue to encourage coffee lovers with the health benefits of their favorite morning beverage, there is a downside to the continual consumption of caffeine. Tran added later in his article that one could become unhealthily addicted to caffeine.

McKay added that while many studies link caffeine consumption to health benefits like reduced liver disease and suicide risk, other studies have identified the risks of disrupted sleep patterns and altered heart function.

Gambill said, “Most everyone who drinks coffee is addicted to some degree. Most won’t admit it, though.”

According to Tran, the chemistry of one’s brain changes over time while consuming caffeine consistently. In order for coffee to have the same energizing effect after long-term consumption, one has to drink more and more coffee at the risk of developing a caffeine dependency.

“Quitting caffeine suddenly can cause headaches that last up to nine days. For those of you who want out, doctors recommend reducing consumption gradually over a period of four weeks,” Tran wrote.

“There have been times in my life when I have had bad headaches from not drinking enough coffee,” Gambill admitted. “These are times when I rethought my relationship with coffee.”

“I think [caffeine addiction] is something to pay attention to,” Gambill added.

“I don’t see it as a big deal,” Himes said. “I just like having a hot mug of robust black coffee before and after breakfast to dust away the cobwebs and to help me get my game on.”

Even if future studies continue to reveal more downsides to caffeine addiction, it seems the coffee-loving public will continue to hold to studies that celebrate coffee’s health benefits.

As McKay put it: “Sip away, but beware of the risks.”