You probably don’t consider yourself to be an addict if you avoid illegal drugs or alcohol, but you may be an unwitting caffeine addict, with your next fix in your morning cup of coffee. However, while caffeine addiction will never cause as catastrophic dependence problems as will cocaine or whiskey, caffeine does have an impact on your body and brain – the effects of which will depend largely with how much caffeine is being consumed.
Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the United States, and worldwide. If you are a coffee drinker, you make up a part of the 83% of Americans who enjoy it every day.
Where Caffeine Comes From
The most familiar sources of caffeine for most people are coffee, tea, and soda. In addition to these, caffeine is found in ‘energy’ drinks, chocolate, and weight loss pills. The amount of caffeine you actually consume a day might surprise you, especially if you drink several cups of coffee, enjoy some dark chocolate, and use an energy drink in the afternoon to get you through the rest of the work day.
Coffee can contain up to 200 mg of caffeine per serving, although this can vary depending on what kind of coffee you’re drinking. Those who prefer tea will get 70 mg of caffeine per cup at a maximum, while energy drinks can give you a dose of 70 to 200 mg depending on the brand. Sodas, even non-colas, can contain 55 mg at the most, with most of them below this figure.
Many pain relievers also contain caffeine because it makes them more effective. Regardless of the source of caffeine, it has been recommended that you consume no more than 500 mg a day and no more than 200 mg for pregnant women. It’s easy to see how even a few cups of coffee, combined with chocolate, and pain or weight pills can tip you over the top for safe daily caffeine consumption.
While obviously caffeine isn’t as dangerous a drug as other addictive substances, it can still have some unsettling effects upon your body:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
Caffeine also has an effect on your brain, which is why you can become addicted to it. Addiction to caffeine is, as with most addictive substances, to be both physical and psychological. Caffeine does affect the neurotransmitters in the brain, most notably adenosine, which is responsible for making us sleepy. Caffeine binds with the receptors, fooling them into thinking that the usual transmitter is present, and this is what keeps us awake – the brain never receives the message to start shutting down. Caffeine also causes the adrenal glands to pump out extra adrenaline, so you will feel more alert and energized. And, besides the physical and mental effects of caffeine, it can also be a fairly expensive habit to maintain.
Kicking the Caffeine Habit
The more caffeine in a substance, the more likely it is to have an addictive effect. Coffee, of course, comes to mind immediately, and the absolute ‘need’ for that first cup of coffee in the morning is actually a mild withdrawal symptom. Energy drinks, which provide a fast, high hit of caffeine are very addictive, and the behavior of those who use them constantly can mirror that of any addict of street drugs or alcohol, with the caffeine addict scrambling for the next fix.
As with the more destructive drugs, those who want to stop their caffeine addiction will often find that they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. While these may not be as strong as those someone who is recovering from a heroin addiction might be subject to, they are still uncomfortable and will continue for several days until the last residues of caffeine are flushed from the body and the brain has had a chance to settle down to normal activity.
Once you have made the decision to become caffeine free, there are some things that can make the whole process more pleasant and lessen the symptoms of withdrawal:
- Drinking plenty of water will not only help to remove residual caffeine from your body, but will also provide some oral gratification that you were getting from drinking coffee, energy drinks, or tea.
- Changing your schedule slightly will help you break away from the situations where you were accustomed to using caffeine. Getting up at a slightly different time, and enjoying a glass of orange juice followed by a short walk can help you get over avoiding the first cup of ‘morning joe’.
- Have a substitute nearby at all times to distract yourself – your cell phone, tablet, book, or even a small toy – can all provide some comfort and distraction when needed.
- Allow yourself to relax and take the time for your caffeine addiction to recede. While it will take some time for you to leave caffeine behind, you will find yourself sleeping better and living without the nervousness and anxiety that too much caffeine can produce
The time to overcome your caffeine addiction is not only when you start feeling mental and physical effects from it, but when you find that you are absolutely dependent upon it at certain times of the day – at this point, your cup of coffee is controlling you.
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