The "acceptable" drug: How I battled my caffeine addiction

February 7 | Guest post by MissKyo
Addicted To Caffeine Scientific Plate by Etsy Seller WhiskerPrints

No, caffeine isn't like being addicted to heroin or cocaine. In some ways, it's worse. Let me tell you something about my caffeine addiction…

When I was in my first year of college, I lived off caffeine pills and energy drinks. It got to the point where I wasn't eating solid food any more, because I couldn't keep it in my stomach. I lost disconcerting amounts of weight. I slept for maybe two hours a night. And I crashed at odd times during the day.

Then I took another caffeine pill, or grabbed another energy drink. Because, hey, school and work and family wait for no naps.

Eventually I realized that I had a problem.

But when I stopped with the caffeine, I got massively intense migraines that made me want to die. And I still couldn't eat much. It took me almost half a year of allotting myself a little caffeine every day to stave off the headaches, and then a little caffeine every other day before I finally got over the withdrawal symptoms.

Now I have to be careful not to fall down that hole again. Because it's so easy to get addicted to caffeine — it's an "acceptable" drug. It's one you can get in any grocery store or gas station. And because there really isn't anything out there to help people understand that, even if it is legal, caffeine is still a kind of drug!

But remembering how much getting through withdrawal sucked the first time, and how many times I had to backslide before I finally did it, helps keep me from getting hooked like that again.

How do you or did you battle caffeine addiction?

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  1. For what it's worth I have heard from people with personal experience of both that withdrawal symptoms from caffeine are not dissimilar to illegal drugs and can be just as hard to get through, and that quitting all together can actually be more difficult precisely because it's socially acceptable. Many more people will treat your decision with suspicion, dismiss it as 'just a phase' or a 'health freak fad' and continue to encourage you to consume caffeine.

    Plus it's everywhere. As someone who works in a busy office and tries to limit my caffeine intake precisely because I'm afraid of getting hooked I often find myself having to refuse multiple offers per day for someone to make me a caffeinated drink. Sometimes I'll be offered a tea or coffee even though I literally have one in my hand at that moment. It's scary how easy it would be to just constantly consume caffeine without really thinking about it.

    2 agree
  2. Guys, be careful saying caffeine addiction is worse then other addictions. I say this as someone who is addicted to caffeine (migraines and withdrawal symptoms and all) and is married to someone who is addicted to pain killers, heroine, and cocaine and in recovery. Please be sensitive to that. Many of the readers here are in the throws of addiction, or making it day by day in recovery, or in a relationship with an addict. Caffeine addiction is terrible and a socially acceptable drug, yes. But remember that many addicts of the drugs you all just dismissed as not as bad as caffeine empty savings accounts to get a fix, or overdose in front of there children, or relapse 20 years into recovery and die because their body no longer tolerates their previous level of drug use. Addiction is a terrible horrible thing and saying one is worse then an other doesn't help anyone.

    19 agree
    • I can't speak for MissKyo (who wrote the original article) but I was trying to make it clear in my comment that I am only comparing how the withdrawal symptoms feel to the person going through it, and that I was passing on anecdotal information, not something I have experienced myself.

      I certainly did not intend to suggest that caffeine addition is similar in any other way to addiction to other drugs, legal or otherwise.

      4 agree
  3. It's truly amazing how many harmful substances our modern diet shoves on us and encourages us to consume. I'm glad you were able to get to a sustainable place with the caffeine (and hydration, yikes)! My doc took me off caffeine two years ago. I get migraines regularly, and caffeine (as a vaso-constrictor) is one of the only ways I can stave them off, so I was NOT a happy camper. Before then I only had 3 cups of coffee a day, so I didn't think I was dependent on it. Wrong! Those were six months of hell, but afterward (when it turned out caffeine wasn't doing anything negative to my body), I find myself only wanting 1 cup of coffee a day (and maybe a cup of black tea). For what it's worth, although the withdrawals are less painful, it's equally hard going off sugar, our other legal drug (and embraced additive in most preserved foods). It turns out that the protein chains in sugar (and sugar substitutes like stevia and erythritol) jack up my stomach lining- avoiding fruit and candy and soda isn't tough for me, but trying to cut sugar completely out means reading every label and desperately trying to trick my sweet tooth (I'm a dark chocolate fiend, normally). Ugh.

    1 agrees
  4. I agree that reducing my coffee intake was hands-down the most difficult adaptation to my pregnancy, though the withdrawal was much less severe than you describe.

    However, I do not see the point in denying myself one good cup of coffee a day. The pleasure I derive from it starts my day on a positive note and largely balances the risk of addiction for me. And if I occasionnally crave an other cup later, it is part of the balance I find. I choose to enjoy the small things, like the aroma of brewing coffee rather than applying strict self-denial.

    3 agree
  5. I feel like decaf tea and (real, ground) decaf coffee has improved a lot in recent years РI now mostly drink decaf coffee made in an espresso maker or cafetière. I do drink caffeinated tea, but limit myself to a couple of cups in the morning.

    I found the best time to give up caffeinated coffee was when I had flu – I just don't fancy coffee at all when I'm ill, so I didn't miss it. Then once I was better I just stuck to decaf. Maybe the change in routine helps to mask breaking the addiction?

    1 agrees
  6. I consumed waaay too much coffee in college. Then I went to England, where the coffee was so bad I wouldn't drink it. My first few days there were miserable. Every afternoon, I got sick, shivering and weak and unable to focus. It wasn't until I couldn't sleep because I was so cold (during summer, while under every blanket in the room and wearing multiple layers of clothes) that I realized my "illness" might just be caffeine withdrawal. Thankfully, after a few days, it went away.

    When I came home, I made sure to limit how much caffeine I consumed, and I still do. I only drink coffee once a day now, instead of all day, and I'm careful not to slowly increase how much I drink. I have the same number of cups every day, at the same time of day, and that's it.

    2 agree
  7. I am a tea drinker although I also drink coffee sometimes. I used to make a strong pot of black tea in a coffee maker every morning. Some days I would finish it early and then make more. I knew folks who had gone cold turkey and suffered migraines, so I decided to wean off by gradually switching to decaf. It took about 3 – 4 months. I started by replacing one teabag with decaf each day for a week, then two for another week, etc. Then I cut back on the amount I drank each day. (Coffee drinkers tell me that decaf doesn't taste as good, but with tea I don't notice a difference. Also, because tea has less caffeine, I have known coffee drinkers who switched to tea first.) I had gotten down to just drinking a cup or two of herbal tea each day, then I went on vacation and drank tons of coffee and tea in order to have the energy to do everything I wanted. After that, I had to start the weaning process again. I hope that within a few more weeks, I will be back to no caffeine. I am also working on sugar. I have gotten to the point that I do not sweeten my tea or coffee but I still crave sweets daily. I am having a harder time breaking the sugar habit.

  8. Honestly, I don't. I don't have the problems the author had – I drink 2-3 cups of coffee a day and don't see it as a problem. Sure, it's a drug but I don't think drugs are necessarily bad. Sure, it's addictive but unless that's a problem, I'm fine with being addicted to it.

    I also don't think it's worse than being addicted to other drugs because, honestly, a normal, non-crazy amount won't hurt you and in fact some research says it has health benefits. It's not harmful in reasonable doses, whereas a lot of hard drugs – I'm thinking meth, heroin – *are* harmful in any dose.

    So…I don't really battle it. I don't need to, and honestly, don't want to. I have tried to wean myself off coffee but while I can get over the physical addiction, I miss the taste and simply the act of drinking it enough (the mental addiction) that, frankly, I was happier being addicted.

    So, bring on the coffee. I don't think it's wrong to drink it all morning (as I said, 2-3 cups). I usually stop by 4pm, because that's my cut-off for when it will affect my sleep schedule (such as it is) and switch to decaffeinated or lightly caffeinated tea.

    Of course, my tune would change if I had issues with it on the level of the author.

    19 agree
  9. Congratulations! Overcoming any kind of habit like that is difficult.
    I'm very sensitive to caffeine. I can have a cup of coffee in the morning and that's about it. I have no problem curtailing it when I'm at home but when I travel all bets are off. I'm not sure if it's because I'm thinking "well jetlag is going to screw sleep anyway so what the hell" or I'm thinking "I really need to be awake right now to make the most of this meeting/vacation". Probably a combination of the two.

    1 agrees
  10. I've given tea, coffee and hot chocolate up for Lent before and generally end up with truly foul headaches by about 2 days in. After a couple of days they're normally gone though. To be fair, I didn't try weaning myself off tea before I started; I just went straight to the hot water or fruit tea on the Wednesday morning. The only problem was that I went to comfort eating instead of cuddling a cup of tea when I felt bad :/

    These days, I'm a lot more aware of how much caffeine I'm consuming and do try to keep it to a minimum after lunch.

    Of course, the real fun comes when you're a youth worker and trying to talk to teenagers about smoking and cannabis while holding a cup of coffee. They do, quite understandably, call you out as a hypocrite!

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