Caffeine addicts get no respect. In fact, caffeine addicts get so little respect that there are people who will argue that there’s no such thing as a caffeine addict. Granted, there are some very specific boxes that are required to be checked before you’re justified in saying that your craving is actually a legitimate drug addiction. But for those who need a Red Bull at four-hour intervals throughout the day in order to remain on top of their game/awake, it certainly seems like a very real thing.
Why do people say you can’t really be addicted to caffeine?
In the scientific community, the word “addiction” is used to identify substances that cause huge dopamine surges that discombobulate the reward system of the brain. Caffeine does influence dopamine production, but not to the necessary threshold required for it to be categorized as addictive alongside far more powerful drugs.
There is some noteworthy overlap between caffeine and other drugs in other classification areas. Aside from producing dopamine in small quantities, caffeine is obviously a stimulant, which is a categorization it shares with methamphetamine. However, according to organizations like the National Institute of Drug Abuse, caffeine isn’t technically “addictive” like meth, because it doesn’t result in the “compulsory” use of a substance even when it causes negative consequences for the person using it.
But even if caffeine doesn’t pass the threshold into the space where it could rightly be termed as addictive, those who feel the constant tug to consume it can justifiably be said to have developed a caffeine dependency, particularly because there are very real withdrawal symptoms that caffeine users endure.
What are the signs of caffeine dependency?
Among the most obvious and common signs of caffeine dependence is the withdrawal headache you’re likely to suffer through if you go for a prolonged period of time without any caffeine. Other common signs include crankiness, which is owed to the lack of dopamine your body might be accustomed to receiving from caffeine, and a general lack of energy from the absence of the adrenaline surge that caffeine is known to prompt.
Caffeine is so effective in its role as a non-addictive, but still habit-forming stimulant, that your body becomes accustomed to its presence, and you’ll find yourself plainly noticing its absence.
You can say that again! So how did I develop such a caffeine dependency in the first place?
Caffeine closely resembles adenosine, which is another molecule that’s normally present in the brain. Typically, adenosine acts as a central nervous system depressant and also supports sleep functions and suppresses arousal. Because caffeine can mimic adenosine so closely, it becomes a frighteningly effective adenosine blocker as it latches onto the same receptors that adenosine would ordinarily link up with and keeps you awake.
In order to overcome the presence of caffeine over the long term, your brain needs to produce increasingly larger quantities of adenosine. This surplus of adenosine is what ultimately leaves you feeling foggy, with larger volumes of caffeine necessitating a greater natural buildup of adenosine to combat its accumulation. To counter such grogginess, you consume greater volumes of caffeine, and the cycle continues as your caffeine tolerance grows progressively stronger and stronger, and your dependency persists and deepens.
Despite what you may have learned from watching Futurama, there are no benefits to deepening the dependency pit so far that you can withstand the collective caffeine infusions of 100 cups of coffee per day. At the very least, you will not be granted the gift of superhuman speed.
Okay, I admit it. I exhibit all the signs of a caffeine dependency. How do I get rid of it?
According to the experts, the worst thing you can do is instantaneously quit caffeine, cold turkey. As noble and earnest as your intentions might seem, the likeliest outcome to this course of action is going to be you, miserable, complaining about an insufferable headache, followed by you caving in and feeding your caffeine demon once again.
Fortunately, you don’t need to treat the weaning process with the same level of severity as you would for hard drugs, which means you can take steps that are less drastic. If you’d ordinarily drink six cups of coffee each day, see if you can slowly begin substituting decaffeinated coffee for a few of those doses. If you’re a three-a-day Monster Energy drinker, replacing a few of those high-caffeine energy drinks with practically any regular soda option will satisfy your desire for carbonation while drastically lowering your caffeine consumption. Finally, see if you can replace any of those caffeinated beverages with water. Water can provide you with hydration and naturally increase your alertness, while simultaneously flushing and eliminating caffeine from your system.
Good plan. I’ll get started after the New Year… probably.
Understandably, caffeine drinking is a tough habit to break. Not only is caffeine consumed daily by 85 percent of Americans, but caffeine is also virtually ubiquitous wherever beverages are sold. Again, though, kicking caffeine dependency isn’t necessarily a matter of “just saying no,” it’s a matter of saying “just some of the time.”