How can I break my coffee addiction?

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7 February
13:48
14 February
13:26

A short answer to your question is to start thinking that you are probably not ‘addicted’ to coffee. Addiction implies loss of control over the use of a ‘substance’ and that it will be difficult to escape from its grip on you – which is potentially self-defeating. Loss of control or compulsion is the essence of the technical definition of addiction. In this respect, coffee, and I suspect you are really talking about caffeine, which is coffee’s primary psychoactive constituent, poses a low risk of addiction, primarily because we do not experience the effects of caffeine as strongly pleasurable.

Caffeine, which is coffee’s primary psychoactive constituent, poses a low risk of addiction, primarily because we do not experience the effects of caffeine as strongly pleasurable.

On the other hand, all of us who consume caffeine frequently (actually, as little as, for example, two cups of coffee or three cups of tea a day) are caffeine ‘dependent.’ Dependence is defined as not being able to function normally without consumption of the substance. With frequent consumption our body adapts to the presence of caffeine, which means that when we stop consuming it for any significant length of time we experience adverse ‘withdrawal’ effects. These effects are the opposite of those of initial consumption. So initially caffeine increases wakefulness, but that effect is greatly reduced with repeated consumption, and then abstinence leaves us feeling tired and fatigued. Another withdrawal symptom is headache, because caffeine also has vascular effects – it constricts blood vessels (and so increases blood pressure). During caffeine withdrawal there is vascular relaxation and consequently an increase in blood flow to the brain which causes headache.

The severity of fatigue and headache experienced during caffeine withdrawal varies a lot between people, sometimes being described as ‘flu-like symptoms.’ However, these symptoms are not accompanied by craving for caffeine or coffee, and without further caffeine consumption they disappear within a few days.

So it is relatively easy to break caffeine ‘addiction’ – actually caffeine dependence – but with the recognition that you are likely to feel below par for a few days, and that you should for example avoid driving long distances because of the increased risk of falling asleep at the wheel.

If you wish, you can then still enjoy the taste of coffee by ordering decaf. And, now that your body is no longer adapted (tolerant) to caffeine, by taking the very occasional cup of regular coffee you can experience the full ‘buzz’ of caffeine. This buzz is a combination of two effects of caffeine, an increase in wakefulness and a small increase in anxiety.

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