January 30, 2002 ~ 2:00 a.m.
Here’s another gem from my college days. This is one of the most popular columns that I wrote from that era. I remember the enormous feedback it generated.
This piece started out as a humorous jaunt about the overwhelming importance of caffeine to most people’s lives, but soon evolved (or degenerated?) into philosophical interludes about escapism and substance abuse/addiction. I even mention my penchant for alcohol. It is especially poignant in light of what I wrote recently in my previous entry the other day. Considering I wrote the following column ten years ago, the coincidence is remarkable—sort of proving the old adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same—which is why I’m re-releasing it now.
Guess I’ll have the de-caf
Originally published by The Mass Media, University of Massachusetts at Boston, April 28, 1992
“I often speculate about addiction and what it really means to be hooded on something. We’ve all heard how badly drugs can mess us up, diminish our credibility and reduce our goals to intangible, petty dreams. Getting through the week, every week, is an achievement in itself for which we should all be commended. We’d like to think there is a way to suppress our anger and anxieties, and usually, according to our shortsighted way of thinking, drugs are the way to go.
If any of you don’t, or never have, considered yourself an addict, I’d like to briefly discuss one drug most of us use every day—caffeine. Don’t laugh. Yes, I realize it’s a rather innocuous stimulant that we suffer no withdrawal symptoms from. But it can determine some social scenes; it also determines social actions. You know, if I don’t have that seventh cup of coffee by nine o’clock in the morning, look out! I am no narcotics officer or a member of a drug control agency, and I surely doubt that there will be any officials in this line of work out to bust caffeine addicts, such as myself, in the foreseeable future. What is interesting, nevertheless, is that trimethylxanthine, caffeine, is classified in the same category of narcotic poisons as morphine, heroin, mescaline, and cocaine, known as alkaloids. Nicotine, the fix of cigarette smokers—a group to which I don’t belong—is an alkaloid as well. The point here is, according to this, caffeine is definitely a drug.
Check this: I have come under accusations of being, working, or acting under the influence of amphetamines before, when the truth of the matter is that I have never even touched the stuff! The only ‘speed’ that I know of is Jolt cola! Ever take caffeine pills to stay awake? Well, I have, and once I ignorantly overdosed on them. Let me very simply say that it was one of the most vicious roller-coaster rides I’d ever sampled and that I desperately wanted off. It’s dangerous, potent stuff, man! See, the caffeine in coffee and tea is somewhat diluted and subdued; in “stay-awake” pills, it’s raw and pure—a legitimate, legal upper.
Caffeine also works rather surreptitiously. That is, you don’t realize you’re on a high the way you would with heroin or cocaine—LSD, for sure. You think that you’re just ‘alert’ and ‘lively,’ and that’s why people like it. Let’s get serious—people not only like it, but they require it.
Let me present to you a little challenge, all right? Here goes: Go without your coffee for a day—that’s a whole 24 hours—and see how you make out. I bet the whole nine yards that a steaming mug of coffee will be the only thing on your mind by five or six in the evening at the latest. Perhaps you could go for an entire week or month without it in a futile attempt to prove me wrong, but you would suffer mental aggravation as a result of this. It would be exactly like going without eating or taking a shower or, for those of you who engage in this filthy practice, a smoke. Eventually you’d crack. Caffeine, you’d realize, soon becomes a necessity rather than simple desire.
Caffeine, of course, pales in comparison to alcohol, another problem of mine. Folks, I’m sure, would rather see me drink twenty cups of coffee a day, instead of three or four glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon with the same time span. You see, escapism is a tricky thing. It is a practice we all engage in—it is virtually innate to humans. Drugs can only facilitate, and escalate it to unspeakably addicting (and addictive) levels. Friends, I speak from experience. I’ve been there. I’m still there. I know one of these days that I’ll get sick of being sick and seriously promise sobriety to change my self-destructive ways and face my anxieties head on. In the meantime, however, addiction will still have its hold on me.
At the very least, I hope you have gained some wisdom from this silly little article. Hardly anybody is actually ‘clean.’ You might kick back and claim that you have never tried marijuana or cocaine, or that you don’t smoke, or that you don’t drink excessively. But you might be cradling a cup of espresso in your hands the whole time. ‘Hey, I’m not an addict, pal!’
Think twice, folks, think twice. Wake up and smell your coffee. This thing called addiction is a tough thing to abstain from.”