If you can’t get your day started without one or more cups of coffee, or if you find yourself experiencing headaches and fatigue without it, you may have formed an addiction to caffeine.
While not as dangerous as an addiction to drugs or alcohol, a caffeine addiction can be just as serious. Too much caffeine is associated with various health and mood problems, and withdrawal from it can be just as difficult as withdrawing from drugs or alcohol.
And, because caffeine is more readily available and socially acceptable than other drugs, you may not even realize you have formed an addiction.
“Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used stimulant, and it’s cheap and readily available so people can maintain their use of caffeine quite easily,” said Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University.
Eighty to 90 percent of adults regularly consume caffeine, according to a study by Johns Hopkins, and as little as one cup of coffee or soda each day can lead to a caffeine addiction.
Withdrawal from Caffeine Addiction
You may not be aware of how addicted you are to caffeine until you try to limit the amount of coffee or soda you drink each day, or quit cold turkey. It is only then that the withdrawal symptoms set in, and you may find your addiction harder to break than you thought it would be.
The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are similar to those experienced by people withdrawing from drugs or alcohol:
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Decreased energy and activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased alertness and attentiveness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Feeling foggy and not clear-headed
The withdrawal symptoms typically begin between 12 and 24 hours after the last time you ingested caffeine (whether that be through coffee, tea, soda or chocolate) and last anywhere from two to nine days. The intensity of the symptoms depends on how much caffeine you consume each day.
Because the withdrawal symptoms of caffeine may make it hard for people to be alert and productive at work or school, finding the motivation to stop is not always easy.
Health Problems Associated with Caffeine Addiction
While many people perceive the benefits associated with caffeine to be worth any addiction they may end up with, there are health problems related to too much caffeine consumption.
Too much caffeine can result in insomnia, which can have an effect on your ability to be productive and alert. It also increases the amount of adrenaline in your body, which can lead to exhaustion and a decrease in serotonin that can lead to depression and anxiety.
Because caffeine is a diuretic, it is possible to become dehydrated unless you are also drinking equal amounts of water. Caffeine can also quell your appetite and leave you malnourished.
Breaking the Habit
Like an addiction to any other substance, breaking a caffeine addiction requires detox. You must eliminate caffeine from your system in order to begin the process of breaking your addiction.
There are two ways to stop an addiction to caffeine: tapering off the levels of caffeine you consume and quitting cold turkey. Tapering off may be easier for most people, as it gradually reduces the level of caffeine in your body until you eventually don’t consume any at all. The tapering off method reduces or eliminates many of the withdrawal symptoms.
Quitting cold turkey may be more difficult because it will be a shock to your system, especially if you typically consume high quantities of caffeine each day. Doing this will lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms that may make it difficult to concentrate or be productive for a couple of weeks.
If you are trying to break a caffeine addiction, it will also be necessary to purge your house of any foods or drinks that contain caffeine so that you will not be tempted. If you are a regular coffee drinker, switch to decaf if you will miss the taste and ritual of having coffee in the morning.
Breaking any addiction is difficult, and may require you to seek support from others experiencing caffeine addiction. You may be able to find a support group in your area that puts you in contact with others struggling with a caffeine addiction, and who can offer you guidance and support when it comes to beating your own addiction.
Just because caffeine is a legal substance, it doesn’t make an addiction to it any less real. Addictions of any type are hard to break, but with the right amount of willpower and support, ending your addiction to caffeine is possible.