Does this sound like you? You stumble out of bed in the morning, unable to function until you’ve had your caffeine fix. You pour yourself a cup of coffee . . . followed by another cup on the way to work and another during your mid-morning break. During lunch, you sip a soda or energy drink and when the 3 p.m. slump hits, you reach for more caffeine to get you through the rest of the day.
If you recognize yourself in this description, it’s possible that you’re addicted to caffeine. Yes, caffeine is a drug and it is addictive. The good news is you’re not alone: some studies suggest that more than 90 percent of Americans use caffeine regularly and more than half of those people display symptoms of caffeine addiction. The bad news? Too much caffeine, like too much of anything, can have serious consequences for your health.
Most people don’t think of caffeine as being a drug. It’s completely socially acceptable: there’s no stigma associated with hitting up Starbucks in the middle of the day and since caffeine occurs naturally in some foods, like chocolate, most people think nothing of consuming large amounts of it through the course of the day. For many, a cup of Joe in the morning is just something to help them get going, a little jolt to the system before a long day.
And caffeine does provide an energy boost, in the short term. Like many stimulants, caffeine only perks you up for a little while. This means that you’ll experience ebbs and flows to your energy level throughout the day; you’ll have short burst of energy followed by sluggishness and reduced attention span. The cure? More caffeine, which puts you on a vicious cycle just to stay energetic.
The Effects of Caffeine Addiction
You may be saying to yourself “oh, it’s just coffee. It can’t be that bad!” And in moderate amounts, caffeine is not all that bad. Experts say that the maximum amount of caffeine that adults should consume each day is the equivalent of 3 eight-ounce cups of coffee or six 12-ounce cans of cola. Caffeine consumption in the form of coffee can actually have some health benefits, as the antioxidants in java can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, diabetes and gallstones.
However, even with those benefits, overuse presents risks. While there does not seem to be a connection between caffeine use and cardiovascular disease, caffeine can still cause other health issues, including acid reflux and stomach pain. Caffeine can also interrupt sleep patterns, keeping you wide awake well into the night. Too much caffeine can also lead to anxiety, shakiness, heart palpitations and pregnancy complications. Never mind the mental and performance effects of the inconsistent energy levels caused by caffeine.
Withdrawing from Caffeine
Compared with other drugs, withdrawing from caffeine addiction is relatively easy. Medical intervention is usually not necessary and the side effects are unpleasant, but generally short term. In fact, your reaction to caffeine reduction or elimination is actually an indication of how addicted you are.
To determine whether you are addicted to caffeine, eliminate all of the substance from your diet: no coffee, tea, cola, chocolate or medications that contain caffeine. The effects should begin to appear quickly, within 24 hours and include headaches, lethargy and fatigue. Depression, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain or stiffness can sometimes occur as well. If the symptoms go away with a shot of caffeine, then, you are addicted.
So how do you end your dependence on caffeine? While the withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, they usually subside within a few days, once your body adjusts to the lack of caffeine. If you consume a large amount of caffeine each day, try a step-down approach to reducing consumption. Replace the afternoon caffeinated beverage with water or juice, for example, and over the course of several days, replace other caffeinated beverages with those not containing the drug.
When you cut out the caffeine, you might fear that you’ll lack the energy and focus you need to get through your day. In fact, the opposite is true. Without the spikes and falls that caffeine causes, you should find your attention improves. If you still lack energy, try alternative boosters, like taking a short walk. You’ll return energized, focused and with the added benefits of getting a short workout.
Caffeine addiction may not seem like a big deal, but it can cause harm to your health. Pay attention to your consumption and if you think you have a problem, take steps to reduce it and get healthy.
This article was written by Gregg Gustafson who is a consultant for Drug-Rehab.org. Gustafson works in an alcohol addiction center helping people battle their addictions. When not working he writes and shares his expertise on addiction with others.