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Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:02 pm, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

By Desiree Johnson

Killeen Daily Herald

According to an article published in New Scientist magazine, 90 percent of Americans indulge in the most widely-used drug in the world: caffeine.

The Caffeine Awareness Alliance sponsors March as National Caffeine Awareness Month, an event formally recognized in five states and 22 cities across America. The non-profit organization is "committed to the wellness of the public whose lives have been affected by their misuse of, or dependency on caffeine."

Marina Kushner, Caffeine Awareness Alliance founder, says the role of caffeine in modern lives is something to be worried about.

"Caffeine has been linked to heart disease, mood disorders, central nervous system disorders, gastro-intestinal disorders, insomnia and even death," Kushner said on CAA's Web site.

Killeen resident Theresa Posey started drinking

coffee at a young age and says she feels like a caffeine addict. "At seven or eight (years old) my mom used to give me a mix with a lot of milk and a little coffee. I grew up liking the taste of coffee and she did the same with my kids, adding it to their baby bottles," said Posey, who owns both a traditional drip-brew coffee maker and an espresso machine. "I've got to have my morning cup of coffee."

In its purest form, caffeine is a bitter-tasting white crystalline powder reminiscent of cocaine and heroin, two infamous street drugs.

According to How Stuff Works, the three have more in common than just looks. All three use the same mechanisms to stimulate the brain, which gives them their addictive qualities.

Caffeine blocks adenosine, a process in the brain that slows down nerve cell activity and causes natural drowsiness, making the user feel more alert. It also injects adrenaline into the system for a boost and even increases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the pleasure center in certain parts of the brain.

At the Bean Tree Espresso coffee shop in Copperas Cove, manager Danielle Wheeks says the stronger the drink, the more popularity it holds.

"We serve a drink called 'a shot in the dark,' which is black coffee with a shot of espresso, and you'd be surprised how many order it. People want something a little extra," Wheeks said. "People will come in and order five (espresso) shot mochas. Stronger is definitely more popular."

Not only are Americans drinking more coffee, but they also seem to be starting at a younger age.

Wheeks remembers making trips to the Bean Tree Espresso during her senior year of high school and credits the birth of her coffee-drinking habit to her sophomore year.

"I was in the band drum line and lots of times we had to be at practice way before school started," Wheeks said. "We had to be on the practice field at 5:30 a.m. before school and I just liked the taste of coffee."

Health becomes a concern when caffeine users are uninformed about (or ignorant of) their daily caffeine intake. The Caffeine Awareness Alliance Web site has a caffeine calculator that can average daily caffeine consumption, a full listing of caffeinated products by category, a caffeine addiction quiz and even information on a caffeine support group.

For the extra conscious, Energyfiend.com has a quick test for Web surfers to find out exactly how much of their favorite caffeinated products they would have to consume to cause death.

For drinkers who decide quitting is the best option, filling that caffeinated void with alternative drinks is easier than most might think.

Decaffeinated coffees, fresh juices, mild teas and a lot more water are all great options. If there's still a craving for traditional java, many turn to soy coffee, an organic 100 percent caffeine-free alternative. Find out more about that option at soycoffee.com.

Contact Desiree Johnson at djohnson@kdhnews.com (254) 501-7559

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