2002.06.08 (updated : 2023.09.10)
I first started drinking coffee as a means of combating migraine headaches. I have suffered from frequent and severe headaches since I was five, the coffee was an effort by my mother to get me well again so we could keep moving while on a trip. I can actually remember my first cup - in Kalispell, Montana. It tasted as good as it had always smelled. I was soon drinking it every day as a matter of course (not just in context of the headaches). I was 15 years old, and caffeine had joined the arsenal of treatments for what would develop into a chronic condition.
The caffeine in coffee is a vasoconstrictor - it shrinks the swollen blood vessels that are a symptom of migraine (and cause of pain). Caffeine is an acknowledged improvement to pain killers taken for headaches and migraine, one that I would turn to regularly. It also monkeys with a wide array of chemicals that our body produces or requires to function, including heart beat rhythm and those pesky blood vessels in our brain. It weakens our bones and can cause reduced fertility in women. And while it can make you substantially less suicidal its use makes your more irritable. It is not to be taken lightly.
when I first tried to quit
It was a habit that would last without break for well over a decade. As a matter of some allergy testing, I eventually only tried to quit when I was living in Australia and pushing thirty. I failed to quit. I made it about three days before I was overwhelmed by the many symptoms that soon developed. In ascending order of severity, they were:
- shaking hands
- nauseau and suppressed appetite
- nervous, edgy disposition
- a throbbing headache that I just couldn't shake
- an inability to function at the office
The last was actually even worse than the headache. The reason for my distraction was that I actually couldn't stop thinking about how much I wanted a f*cking cup of coffee! I had no idea how it had gotten this bad, but when I thought about it, I couldn't remember the last time I'd tried to kick the stuff. I imagine I've had coffee nearly every day for the previous fifteen years. I had quit all alcohol for a month, once, about four years before that, and that was a piece of cake. Just had to remind myself that no, it wasn't time to pour myself a drink, or join my friends in a round or two. It certainly didn't plague me the way the coffee did. It turns out that coffee has a variety of neurological impacts and psychological meanings.
Struggling to get through the work day, I went and ordered an espresso, and followed that with a soy latte. The headache cleared, and I could work. So I tried easing into it. It took me another two weeks before I was regularly going more than three days without a cup.
That was more than twenty years ago. So where does it stand? I'm now a 2-3 cup per day drinker, but it's decaf. I use a migraine drug with caffeine when I have to, it's usually about 2-3 times a week. That's 50mg a pill. And about five days a week, I'll drink a "special" diet Pepsi because I find it helps with the routine (though milder) weather headaches and stress headaches. I often use the Pepsi to down a 500mg aspirin pill, or something with 100mg of acetaminophen. I can easily go a week without any caffeine if it happens, but between the stress of my job (I have seventy staff) and home etc that's rarely the case.
I have had two relapses into caffeine addiction over the years. The first was around 2003 -- only two years after the first time I went off it. I somehow fell back into the habit and was plagued by constant migraines as a result. I smartened up and more-or-less stopped going to cafes. I then fell back into it once more in 2018 when the coffee joint next to my workplace didn't have decaf. It took me a couple of months to realize what was going on, stupidly. I know now that I'm "caffeine sensitive" and must stay away forever.
For me, the worst single outcome from caffeine use is the migraines. When caffeine constricts the blood vessels in your head, it must eventually relax that constriction as well. This sets up a cycle where you are dependent on caffeine to fight the cycle that it helped start. It's not chemical dependency as much it is a physical one. Your brain hurts because the veins are applying pressure as they accommodate the increased flow.
To supplement the pain killers, I use a variety of supplements daily, including:
- Vitamin B-2
- Magnesium citrate or a similar form of magnesium supplement.
- Co-ensume Q10
- an iron supplement
nic-fits for everybody
I've often wondered what would happen if some airliner fell out of the sky on some remote 'desert isle', and the survivors all fell ill to their various withdrawal symptoms. If my first experience with kicking a long-term coffee habit was any indication, I can only imagine that the coffee addicts would be bad company. To my knowledge, I don't know anyone suffering from a serious drug habit, but I do know plenty of smokers. In the plane crash scenario, I believe the cigarette junkies (never mind those on some flavor of 'recreational substance') would be utterly miserable.
I have nothing but respect for those who can successfully kick cigarettes. Chemically, it's supposed to be worse than heroin, so I imagine it's about a million times worse than caffeine. And yet, caffeine is bad enough on its own. I was once seated next to a judge on a flight across Canada. She told me that she had at one point developed a strong caffeine habit in the form of espresso. Her doctor told her that the quantity of caffeine she was getting was more than 50 cups of straight 'filter' coffee a day! On the day of the flight, she had been off of coffee for over a dozen years, but eats more chocolate than before.
In the plane crash scenario, would there be anyone free of some sort of withdrawal symptom?
it's a trivial addiction, after all
Coffee may seem like an odd, trivial thing to get addicted to, because we're all using it. Coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate are all standard fare, and we think nothing of their consumption (our Mormon friends aside). And in the greater context of all the addictions out there, I doubt many people would give it any thought let alone be sympathetic for someone in their life who is dealing with it. But there is a fair body of research that indicates that caffeine addiction is directly linked to many health problems, ranging from gimmes like insomnia all the way up to heart disease, digestive problems, and chronic fatigue (see the links below). It's now the most prevalent psychoactive addiction.
And it's certainly not the most surprising. I once was crossing the city in a cab at about two AM. The cab driver pointed to a 'homeless' man that we were passing, and told me that he knew the fellow. The cabbie had been driving for thirty years, he said, and had watched the fellow on the street succumb to an addiction to video gambling. He said he'd seen the fellow lose everything, and wind up living on the street, scraping up enough for the inevitable chemical addictions that followed. It's scary, how many addictions our society offers. Video gambling! Sex addicts, Internet addicts, compulsive shoppers. As I was saying, list of addictions goes on and on.
won't someone think of the spiders
We've all seen the results of the experiment with feeding spiders aerosolized drugs. The poor caffeine spider would starve to death. Even the spider on sleeping pills would eat better. And having been down the sleeping pills rabbit hole myself I empathize.
life after caffeine
My first long run without caffeine (roughly 2004 through 2018) was great, initially. My health and well-being improved in several happy ways. The first thing that I noticed when I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee was that my ability to focus improved dramatically. I found that was better able to do things like writing code and putting my thoughts together while writing. I could stick with a single task for longer periods, and I found myself better at "thinking-on-my-feet". I've read that coffee actually worsens one's ability to deal with stress, and in my case I think it might also have proven true.
no more IBS
While living in Australia I was diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For those unfamiliar with the joy of IBS, that joy is this: you are subjected to unpredictable bouts of cramping and... how should I put this... extremely urgent and sudden need of a toilet. With IBS, you find yourself learning where all of the public washrooms are in your area because you've had to locate them in a hurry. With IBS, you have to make sudden and often very unpleasant unplanned detours while traveling. With IBS, you often have to hit the can just after eating. So that's what IBS was for me. But no more. As soon as I reduced my caffeinated coffee intake from two cups a day to one, the "IBS moments" (those special cramping, scurrying moments) fell in occurrence from roughly 4-7 times a week to once a week. When I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee altogether, the IBS moments just stopped happening.
So in short, my mind felt better and my health improved. I'm certainly free of the IBS moments, and overall feel less nervous and tense. If recording this can convince anyone to cut their caffeine intake, this essay has served its purpose.
This article was originally written in mid 2002 and I've added some notes in the many years since.
Gano Cafe is a great alternative to regular coffee and decaffeinated.
Made from Brazilian coffee beans and Ganoderma.
I enjoyed reading your comments and getting to know you! Linked to your site via caffeine addiction!
I just read your article on Caffeine Addiction. I know what you're going through! Since 1989 I've been addicted to soft drinks. Especially Coke or Pepsi. I'm also addicted to chocolate! I remember when I first starting drinking soda. It was when my Mom and I moved out of my Dad's house. I was a senior in high school and I almost died that year from other health related isssues. When I was growing up; we were only allowed to have Soda at the holidays. Usually Christmas eve when we would have a big party.
Anway, in our new place my Mom started buying Soda on a regular basis. I remember that first week of her doing so. (Previously I was addicted to tea) I couldn't find a bottle opener (when we still had glass bottles) so I was trying to open it with a fork! I scraped my knuckles on the cap. I was shaking and nervous and wanted that dang soda!!! I guess it didn't take me long to be addicted to it. Now I have to have 3 servings a day plus chocolate.
I'm not even supposed to have caffeine because of my medicine.
I attempted to quite several times, but of course I had the usual headache. Then I would give up and grab another Soda. Soda is getting so expensive now. One six pack of 24oz bottles is more than six dollars a pack! A 2LTR is like 1:49 and cans 3.00 dollars. I know you're canadian so that doesn't mean anything to you :)
Canadians are great as far as I'm concerned. One of my best friends is from Ontario and my ancestors came from Quebec. I'm going to pray tonight for all those who are addicted to caffeine!!! Take care!
ha! Had such a good laugh - certainly enjoyed the smiles.
I have not had caffeinated coffee or soda for 8 days now. Prior to that I guzzled a pot of coffee and maybe 4 diet sodas a day. I'd become rather vain about how easily I had quit when I happened to look at the label on the Excedrin bottle (I've been taking quite a few this past week - smile)and noticed there were 65 mg. of caffeine per tablet. Hmmmm.... so much for having kicked the habit...
Thanks for posting such a funny biography snippet!
Glad you liked it, Michelle. My first attempt to quit is buried in my journal in mid 2000. It's pretty embarrassing, what with the swearing and the whining.
My most recent attempt to quit has ended in failure once again. But I'm down to one cup of coffee a day, and I'm only using half as much coffee per cup as I was (in all, I'm probably down to 1/4 of where I was two months ago). Now I know why my brother still smokes after all this time!
i love soda
i am addicted to soda i couldnt give it up, if i dont have soda i refuse to do anything and i'm a bi*ch untill i get some, thats why i always have a coke or sprite with me
I cant live without my pepsis and frappucionos!!!i have to have a coke w every meal, and some sort of coffee every morning, if not i fell like sh*t the rest of the day! and i am so young, barely 18, is there something ot stop this madness! i dont know how many times ive tried quittin, but its so hard!!!:(
i am addicted 2 caffien badly..i have over doesed 2 tiems and now goign thru withdrawel i tried quitting but i need TO B IN OVEEEEEEEEEEERDRIVE..im really saaaaa..spazing right now i need it so bad..but soo i am getting htis stuff that has 100mgs of caffien evey oz and it has 24oz in all
I was just told today by a ?!reputable?! dr that the reason I feel so badly all the time is that I'm over caffienated or a gasp! caffeine addict. I personally feel that he just couldn't help me & this was the best he could come up with. But hey I'll give it a shot.Although I do agree with you that why give up all together soda,coffee,&tea if you really enjoy the taste.Out of all the addictive stimulants, you could do a h*ll of a lot worse then have coffee. Well I guess it's just h20 for awhile. But if I don't feel better, I'm going to smack the good dr over the head with my mr coffee pot.
I've got 2 months clean from caffeine!
I am using the 12-step program to keep off the caffeine. I found it was the only way to stay clean. I had to come to the realization that my addiction was similar to that of any drug addict. The process is the same. The only difference is that it's socially acceptable & not life threatening, BUT it is a threat to sanity & sense of well-being. I'm working my 3rd step with my sponsor now. There is a lot more to lose if I relapse now. It takes more than just your own will power to quit... at least that's what I have found. I highly recommend quitting for anyone that desires a quality life & a full experience in everything they do!
I am addicted to soda
I am addicted to soda. When I see a Coke or Pepsi logo, I urge for soda. I want to stop, but I have no will power. I also drink soda as a "quick pick me up". Hrlp me stop! I drink 3-5 cans per day. I know it is bad, but how do I stop.
After reading all the other posts, a few comments:
1) Caffeine has a bitter taste. It is well known that some people enjoy bitter tastes more or less than others. Also, it is popular to combine bitter with sweet. (coffee with cake, coca-cola, etc). Barq's unique flavor comes from the caffeine. This is why caffeine free versions of popular sodas are not as satisfying.
2) Decaf coffee and tea contain significant quantities of caffeine. Herbal teas that say caffeine free contain no caffeine.
3) Sprite is the only caf-free soda that is a satisfying substitute for me. It has a very, very strong acidity that substitutes for the taste of caffeine. However, I now think it is etching my teeth (sob).
4) Someone PLEASE, PLEASE develop a non-drug food alternative to caffeine!
My beliefs about caffeine
I'm a caffeine addict as well, though for me the effects of caffeine are more serious than the addiction. I believe that most people (i.e. nearly every person in the US) is probably addicted to caffeine, but either doesn't know it,or doesn't care.
For me, and certainly for many others, it caffeine is a mood altering drug. One key factor that makes it more dangerous than other drugs is that the addict can't tell they are suffering bad effects. You know when you're drunk, you know when you're high, but you don't know when you are being angry, violent, or depressed as a result of caffeine -- at least, I can't tell. After the three-day let down period, I can sometimes figure it out. I can tell, though, that my fatigue level is increasing on a daily basis, and that I'm gradually developing a shorter and shorter temper.
Here are some of my beliefs. Some of these have been corroborated by research, some of them MIGHT be contradicted by research, and many need to be researched:
IB means I Believe. You decide if you believe it too.
IB a single cup of coffee contains too much caffeine. Cutting back to a single cup may improve your sleep a little, but you will still be under the effects of caffeine all the time.
IB most people don't know what it's like to feel normal, or get a good night's sleep.
IB caffeine is cumulative. Therefore, a single cup of decaf might not be "too much", but a single cup every day is too much
For a while, I could "control" my addiction with hot chocolate. Today, the caffeine in hot cocoa is too much for me. IB that the more an addict gets away from caffeine, the stronger it's effects will seem to him.
IB Caffiene is far too powerful a drug to be uncontrolled. If it were just coffee, that would be one thing, but now (IB) soft drink manufacturers, iced coffee makers, and others are intentionally increasing caffeine levels.
IB soft drink makers are trying to addict kids the way cigarette makers used to do, without any notice from the public. Barq's root beer has 'bite' -- the bite is caffeine. Sunkist Orange, all kinds of cocoa drinks, the cola drink in Lunchables, A&W cream soda, and many other drinks you would not suspect contain caffeine (chocolate and coffee drinks don't list it as ingredients)
My beliefs about caffeine (cont/d)
(These two posts are under 4000 characters combined, but was rejected as a single post)
Psuedophedrine and acetiminophen (Sinus Tylenol) helps me "come down" from caffeine (on the second day, sometimes the third). However, this could create an additional addictive behavior, so be cautious. Psuedophedrine is said to be chemically similar to caffeine
Some aspirin makers recently started saying their "aspirin" was more effective than other asprins. These "aspirin" products (and some non-aspirin products) contained caffeine. IB they were more effective because the headaches they "cured" were actually caffeine addiction headaches. These people would probably get a headache every day using this product.
IB most recurrent headaches are caffeine induced in most people.
IB caffeine is a performance enhancing drug, and it is a mood altering drug, and it is highly addictive, and therefore should carry a surgeon's general warning label, at the least.
IB my Air Force career was ended prematurely because of the effects of severe caffeine overuse. This was before I realized that I was overusing caffeine, and also before people recognized caffeine as a drug. Caffeine free sodas were not available at that time, because no one thought twice about caffiene.
IB that my current personality and behaviorial problems that I have at work and with individuals are the residual effects of caffeine addiction. I know that the conflicts become worse after several days of extremely light caffeine use (a single daily cup of cocoa).
I believe that the vast majority of American citizens (at least) are addicted to caffeine, and are under it's affects all the time. It is impossible to be sure what gains might be made if we could have a caffeine free society.
Addicted to caffine & need ADVICE
Hey, um i kno wthis might sound weird, but i drink ATLEAST one can of diet coke in a day if not 2 or 3 (<< yesterday i had 3), and then i NEED CHOCOLATES to function. Infact yesterday i found myself going through our cabinets lookings for chocolate, as I am overweight my mom no longer buys anything. So yesterday i ate a whole 12 piece pack of ferrero rocher, and this wasn't the first time. I feel as if i need the chocolate to function.. can you please help me and help me find a way to stop these urges!? I have random mood swings and everything and my parents just don't understand.. but i really think i need a way to quit as I am only 16 and I have been like this for a full year now
comments on your site
I typed in Pics of Vancouver in google.com and came across your site. I have enjoyed it immensely. I am hoping to move to Canada (from the U.S.)and I enjoyed reading your comments. Two things: I recommend City of Glass, a coffee-table pic book by Douglas Coupland. Also, I was wondering if you have seen the Canadian film "Speaking Parts." It was made 86-90..not sure, but very entrenched in the '80s. I did not see a review of it, but I would be curious to see your reactions. I love the film. Have a good one, Ben