It’s an addiction so many of us share – so why don’t we talk about it?
We drink it so mundanely and casually that we often forget that it’s a drug. Not only that, it’s the world’s most popular drug which makes obvious the addiction to it evermore worrying. Despite quite a lot of speculation (usually from coffee addicts) there’s no real valid argument to suggest that caffeine isn’t addictive.
Like the majority of drugs, caffeine is chemically addictive. This means is stimulates certain chemical systems – you can read our post on how coffee affects the body but long story short after about 40 minutes of drinking a coffee your serotonin levels begin to rise, making you feel amazing. And the majority of us drink coffee every morning to make sure we don’t curl up on the floor and take a nap on our commute to work. If you use it daily, like with any drug, you build up a tolerance to it. Consequently, after a while you need more caffeine to produce the exact same effect and this is how we get addicted.
As well as the potential dangers never properly being addressed, the other (less appealing) side effects are never ever talked about – these include agitation, irritation and anxiousness. These increase with the more caffeine you have , and although you may acclimatise to the energy boost, your body will never get used to the irritating, agitating, anxiety-boosting aspects. These side effects are also enhanced amongst those who have anxiety or depression. In extreme cases, you could have a cup of coffee on a Monday morning to help you wake up, and you could still be feeling its effects on Wednesday night.
And, as with ever addiction – withdrawal symptoms exist, and they can be unbearable. 24 hours after quitting you may feel quite mentally foggy, lacking alertness. It’s at this point many will reach for another cup of coffee to help them get though the day with a productive attitude. Your muscles will ache despite you doing absolutely nothing strenuous. You’ll also be extremely irritable, like with many who go cold-turkey. If you make it through this without a coffee then you’re doing better than the majority of us. I for one have never even tried to cut-back on my coffee and after finding this out, I don’t want to. Maybe I have a problem?
So, you’ve hacked your way through all of that but now it’s time for the hard bit, in the form of a throbbing headache, and other flu like symptoms start to kick in. Believe it or not, you haven’t caught something, your body is just protesting about having the drug taken away from it. Honestly, without knowing any better this would seem like withdrawal symptoms to alcohol or tobacco to me. And If you’re now interested in how caffeine actually affects the brain, we did a blog post on it, complete with all the science and solutions on how you may be drinking coffee wrong.
Caffeine isn’t actually a stimulant on its own, it’s more of a stimulant enabler – allowing the stimulants in our brain run absolutely wild, giving us those desired “rush of energy” side effects. For people who do this every single day, the brain’s chemistry actually change overtime as a result. One of the most notable changes is the fact that the brain cells grow more adenosine receptors in an attempt to maintain an equilibrium when your body is constantly ingesting caffeine. This explains why you need more caffeine to wake you up, as you drink more over time as it takes more caffeine to block the adenosine, and to achieve the desired effect.
This also explains why you get withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking coffee entirely. You brain has become used to an inflated numbers of adenosine receptors and a lower amount of norepinephrine receptors. Without the caffeine, the brain chemistry doesn’t know what to do. These symptoms only last about 7-12 days, so if you want to kick the caffeine for good, you’ll be able to in less than two weeks. If you can make it that long without coffee (which I don’t think I will) then you can just drink a green tea or some water every morning.
Importantly, the comparison with other drugs just doesn’t seem fair. Tobacco, alcohol and other drugs are completely worse and comparing it to caffeine makes them seem trivial. Caffeine, when drank (or eaten) sensibly and in moderation, isn’t dangerous and may actually have health benefits. There are no health benefits to smoking or drinking an excessive amount of alcohol.
Obviously, we’re not trying to put you off coffee (as a coffee company that would be extremely counter-productive). Coffee is an amazing drink to indulge in and enjoy – and if it helps you get through the day then, by all means. take a big cup of coffee.