As a lifetime caffeine addict, like many of us I have attempted to rationalize away the fact that caffeine is a very powerful and addictive substance. Like most addicts, I am only really aware of this fact when I give it up and notice what a huge difference it makes. Having now been caffeine free for 3 weeks I look at the poor souls in the long Starbucks drive-through line anxiously awaiting their next fix, and self- righteously wish they knew what I know now. That stuff is bad for us and it is making us sick. Caffeine is so prevalent throughout our culture that no one wants to admit that it is a potent drug that stimulates addictive behavior not unlike a number of less socially acceptable substances.
I decided to quit for a couple of reasons. One reason was that I was acting like an addict and I don’t like to be dependent on things. I would wake up wanting a cup of coffee, then would have one and would want another one. If the coffee wasn’t available as planned I would get anxious, and would go out of my way to find one. It might make me late for work or to drop my kids at school, but the caffeine came first. The pleasure was very short term and always followed by the desire for more. After about 3 cups of something caffeinated the craving would go away, but the effects would no longer be pleasant.
That was the other reason to quit; I wasn’t feeling good and was pretty sure it was related to my caffeine intake. If I had too much I would be jittery and anxious. A few hours into the afternoon I would get a headache and start to feel tired. I had rules though, I never drank coffee in the afternoon or I would not be able to sleep. So I suffered through the afternoon feeling progressively more tried and cranky. As little as one diet coke after noon and I could not fall asleep. Then I would be more tired in the morning and rush for the coffee pot even faster.
Quitting was much easier that I thought. I like having a hot drink in the morning so switched to decaf tea. (For purists, yes, there is a tiny amount of caffeine in decaf tea. Less than 1/20 of a cup of coffee, so close enough to zero for me.) Having the hot drink fooled my addictive side into thinking I was still getting something. For a few days I had some mild headaches but nothing serious and it passed quickly. Within a couple of days I was much more energetic in the afternoons, was less grumpy and slept much more soundly. The lack of cravings in the morning made me realize how strong they had been previously and every time I passed a Starbucks without going in I realized how often I had made those stops.
I think we should ask ourselves if we want to be addicted to substances that change our behavior and our personalities, and why this is so socially acceptable when other similar substances would never be considered OK. When you see a line of 12 cars waiting at a coffee drive through at 11 am on any given day, it is hard to disagree that this is powerful stuff that they are selling. And the bottom line is that like all drugs, it doesn’t make you feel good. Not for long anyway, and not without a price.
Caffeine won’t kill you, probably, but I am sure that half of my patients who come in complaining of feeling tired and grumpy are suffering from caffeine side effects. If you are feeling tired in the afternoon, are anxious, jittery, grumpy or have trouble sleeping, I challenge you to give up caffeine and see what happens. Chances are you will become a religious ex-caffeine addict like me. No one wants to be a slave to anything, get your freedom and your mental health back and ditch the Starbucks!
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