Coffee – are you in control of your addiction?

by Paul Goodchild on June 4, 2010

The delicious caffe latte

It’s a lesson it seems I must learn and relearn – coffee is all about balance!  It’s full of caffeine – a highly addictive chemical stimulant.  Several times in the past I’ve had to take measures to completely remove it from my diet – usually when I realise I’m not drinking it for the taste and the pleasure, but because I feel I need it. Somehow it creeps back, usually shortly after I make the choice to have just one.

“I’ll limit myself to once a week, on the weekends.”  That works; for a time.  But it gradually forms a habit until I’m up to “one a day, but no later than lunch time”.  While I was in Bali I was even drinking it at 7 o’clock in the evening, and that’s when the alarm bells began to chime, if only very quietly at first.

A few days ago I travelled from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to northern Thailand by bus and train.  Not pretty, but I decided to take this time to ween myself off caffeine.  And it worked, for a time…

Word count: ~1000.  Approx. reading time: 5~10 minutes.

Caffeine addiction and your health

Is caffeine addictive?

In a word, yes.

Caffeine alters your brain chemistry in much the same way as cocaine and heroin.  It binds to, and blocks, the neuro-receptors in your brain (Adenosine) that are responsible for producing a drowsy effect and making you sleep.  And further, instead of slowing down, the nerve cells speed up and in-turn precipitate the release of adrenaline, as an emergency response to this increased activity.

Now you’re really wired!

Long term, this is particularly bad for you as it directly impacts you’re ability to sleep (since you’re clogging up your adenosine reception) and to sleep deeply when you do actually rest.  Caffeine takes some time to clear out of your body so depending on what time of the day you had your last caffeine hit, you could have a large amount remaining in your system by the time you need your sleep.

What happens when you don’t get enough good sleep?  You’re grumpy and irritable; you concentrate less well and in general you function much less efficiently. There are also long-term health implications (see links below).

How do you solve these problems that stem from lack of sleep?  Simple. You grab yourself a coffee on your way to the office… and so the cycle is complete.

How to fix your caffeine addiction?

There’s really only 1 appropriate response to take in the face of addiction – attempt to break it.

The title of this article is little contradictory since addiction of any kind implies a lack of control – you are no longer in the driving seat; you are not the sole determinant in your destiny.

That sounds rather grandiose, but for me, once this realisation sinks in deeply, and it has (again) for me in the past two or three days, the only appropriate response is to wrestle back control.

Today, while watching TED Podcasts for a couple of hours in a nearby café, I allowed myself to have 2 cups of coffee in the space of an hour – it was raining after-all so what else was I to do?  What balls!

The justifications your addiction-addled brain conjures up to make you take another hit is incredible.  The good thing about caffeine-addiction is that while it’s very real, it’s non-serious compared to other substances such as nicotine, heroin etc.  We can witness the power of addiction in the clear light of day and be able to quit (relatively) easily.

I had became aware, during my time in Bali recently, of how irritable I had become.  Sometimes I was shocked at myself, but I knew the underlying cause.  I just didn’t want the hassle that comes with breaking the caffeine habit.  Now I feel it’s time to properly give it up, even though I tried and failed a few days ago while travelling up from Malaysia.

After arriving in northern Thailand I checked myself in to the nearest coffee shop to “get high”, completely negating the hardship of the previous 48hrs of the caffeine-free life.  I deserved a treat, I told myself.  Again, what balls!

I’ve been meaning to write this article and have even been using it (completely irrationally of course) as an excuse not to quit the habit yet – I somehow tied up a relationship between quitting and publishing.  Crazy logic.

What to expect when you kick the habit?

Quitting the caffeine is a difficult process, but luckily not as terrible as most major addictions.

I’ve done it few times, so I know what to expect for myself.  But as with most things like this your mileage may vary.  It’s nothing to be worried about, and you can look forward to the great benefits when you’re successful, such as more natural latent physical and mental energy, mental clarity, and freedom!  But first, you can probably expect:

  • headaches.  This is by-far the most likely symptom and probably the most persistent in the days immediately following withdrawal.  For me, they’re never too severe, but will typically last the whole of the first day, and may or may not be gone, or return the next day. For me, I’m usually clear of the headaches after 48hrs.
  • fatigue.  Closely related to the headaches, but you’ll find that without the caffeine to keep you going, you’ll be sleepy at very inopportune times.
  • lack of concentration.  Again, tied to headaches and fatigue.
  • irritability.
  • weird diet.  I find I’m usually incredibly hungry and will eat typically half again more than normal for at least most of the following week.

Some suggestions/hints if you’re going to attempt to break free:

  • Take your last hit on a Friday and sacrifice your weekend because otherwise you’re likely to impact your professional work during the week.
  • Be aware of other food and drinks you may consume that contain caffeine.  It’s in heaps of things, such a soft-drinks, tea, green-tea, chocolate and chocolate-based drinks, some pain killers (which you might resort to using to relieve withdrawal symptoms!), sport and energy drinks, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with consumption in moderation once you’re free of it, but when you’re not in control of when and how much you’re taking, then you have a problem.

Have a coffee any time you like, but if you are compelled to have another within hours of the last, resist – break the habit before it forms, and retain the balance.

Are you addicted to caffeine?  Have you broken the habit?  Any advice or experiences you want to share?  Please feel free to do so below – all comments and feedback are welcome.

My follow-up article may be found here.

Further reading:

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marco August 30, 2010 at 16:22

Brilliant. I’ve known for a while (ie admitted to myself) that it’s a bone fide addiction. But like you say, it’s socially acceptable. For years now I’ve not drunk coffee after 3pm, so that I sleep fine in the evenings. Often when out eating with people they look at me incredulously when they order their espresso!

So it’s manageable/partially controlled with the 3pm thing, but I keep wondering would I have better productivity and also life-enjoyment if I didn’t have caffeine at all?

Any update since your June post?


Paul Goodchild August 30, 2010 at 16:33

Yea man, funny I was thinking of writing another quick article since the coffee has crept back. It’s insidious, but I keep it under wraps since once midday comes along, caffeine in the form of coffee is banned from my life.

And I laughed out loud (a real ‘lol’) when you said about the incredulous looks people give you when you don’t order the seemingly obliglatory espresso after dinner. It’s funny… if you give them the same look they think yer mad, you’re a little bit dull and don’t know how to enjoy life to the fullest. No, it’s just that I treasure a good nights sleep over 3 minutes of burning yummyness.

And that’s the problem – the yummyness. I like my cafe lattes. I don’t seek them out as I used to, but if it’s early-mid morning and I stroll past a coffee shop with free time to spare, and I just happen to have my books/diary/podcasts then relaxing for 30 minutes with a latte is where it’s at. I’m attempting now just to ensure it doesn’t become a daily habit. Regular, 2 or 3 times a week is enough for me right now.

And, now that I’m in different parts of asia, with a greater fruit selection, I can get more/better fruit juice smoothies. Lattes don’t compare…

Thanks for sharing! It’s great to know I’m not alone! 😀


Juice for fasting February 1, 2011 at 11:02

Presently, most people would prefer and recommend organic health foods and natural remedies. With the rise of various diseases that affect us and our family, like common colds, cough, allergies to a more complicated illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and even cancer, we are guilty that these are the effects of our poor eating habits, alcohol intake, smoking, and also environmental pollutants, various drugs, cosmetics, household and industrial cleaning products. How can we spare ourselves from these kinds of diseases? Here’s the good news, we can by juice fasting and detoxification.


Paul Goodchild February 14, 2011 at 12:06

I completely agree! I have undergone 3x 7-day fasts for detox and they’ve been brilliant. Sometimes we can’t always dictate what we eat, but we set it right with regular detox fasting courses.


Jack Kelle July 24, 2013 at 03:53

I’ve enjoyed your coverage of the caffeine issues in our culture. Given this focus, I thought I would let you know that I recently finished working on an infographic that explores caffeine addiction, its health benefits, and other interesting facts. Hopefully you might make some use of it. Here’s the link:

Best Wishes,


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