I'll be honest with you, I had no intention of going cold turkey from my strong, dark, energy-providing, thoroughly enjoyable daily coffee consumption. It was only an upset stomach that paved the way. A day without coffee, then another, just because I didn't fancy it. Then I thought, actually, I'm not sure I really need it today either. After that I thought I'd go with the flow, see how long I could last and see whether it helped any of my headaches and general fatigue. It seemed to. So I did a little reading to find out whether caffeine addiction really exists and after reading those result, I decided to try and make it to 2 weeks to kick my reliance.
Sadly it seems that regular ingestion of caffeine does alter the chemical behaviour of your brain, often causing fatigue, headaches and even nausea if you try to quit. The Smithsonian describes the likely symptoms that can set in within 24 hours of quitting:
'The first thing you notice is that you feel mentally foggy, and lack alertness. Your muscles are fatigued, even when you haven’t done anything strenuous, and you suspect that you’re more irritable than usual. Over time, an unmistakable throbbing headache sets in, making it difficult to concentrate on anything. Eventually, as your body protests having the drug taken away, you might even feel dull muscle pains, nausea and other flu-like symptoms.'
Doesn't sound pleasant, does it? Richard Griffiths, Professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurosciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explains that that is because, even though caffeine is not considered to be a drug of abuse, it has all the features of one. 'It alters mood, it produces physical dependence and withdrawal upon abstinence, and some proportion of the population becomes dependent on it."
However, the effects are relatively short-term. To kick the thing, you only need to get through about 7-12 days of symptoms without drinking any caffeine so that your adenosine receptors can respond. If you can make it that long without coffee or tea, the levels of adenosine receptors in your brain reset to their baseline levels, and your addiction will be broken.
For more on the science behind the process, read the very useful article at:
This got me wondering - I hadn't had any of the symptoms described in the Smithsonian article. However, I didn't completely eiminate caffeine. I completely eliminated the strong coffee I love. I allowed myself a couple of cups of the insipidly weak earl grey that gives my life purpose. Technically, definitely cheating. However I was more concerned about the possibility that I was consuming coffee out of habit rather than out of enjoyment. Days when I have to take coffee in a flask to work are surely days when I might be better off without that substandard fare?
Despite the not-quite-total withdrawal from caffeine in every form, if anything, I felt better immediately. Whether this turn around has been because of the omega 3,6 & 9 supplements I have been taking devotedly or whether this is because of the elimination of coffee, I couldn't say. But when I noticed I was relying on coffee for my energy levels and noticed that itnotably failed to help with any energy, I figured it was time to see what would happen.
Part of the reason it's difficult to know whether you might be addicted is because it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in each cup of coffee. I work in a place with no access to decent coffee so I take a flask. Not the best tasting coffee but I do have an idea how strong each serving is. Forensic toxicologist Bruce Goldberger and his colleagues analysed the contents of coffee drinks, publishing the results in 2003. 'They found huge caffeine differences between coffee brands but also between coffees from the same shop. He bought a 480ml cup of coffee from one branch of Starbucks on six consecutive days. Each time, he ordered the Breakfast Blend. The cup with the least caffeine had 260mg. One had twice that amount. Yet another clocked in at a whopping 564mg.' Of course, this means 'many people just aren't aware of how much caffeine they are taking,' says Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
Nothing has changed regarding consistency since 2003. For a study published in 2012, Scottish researcher Thomas Crozier and his colleagues bought 20 espressos in Glasgow cafes. 'They found that the caffeine concentration varied from 56mg to 196mg per 28ml, with four cafes serving up espressos containing more than 200mg of caffeine.'
In addition to these anomalies, there are the worrying additions of caffeine to various foodstuffs, some of which you'd be surprised to find caffeine in. As a result of being unaware of caffeine consumption, it's easy to could create problems for yourself such as altered mood, insomnia, restless limbs, indigestion, or high blood pressure.
For me, I realised I was certainly reliant on the ritual, if not the physical effects of coffee and thought it would be beneficial to give my body a break and reassess. After 2 weeks I broke my ban and indulged in a good quality flat white on Sunday afternoon, halfway around a strenuous bike ride. I enjoyed it! But I haven't felt the need to rush into consuming anything that might be sub-my-preferred-standards since. I'm hopeful I may be able to limit my consumption to a large cup every few days as and when I can find a mug of the stuff that I might really enjoy. It wasn't helping me be any more alert anyway!
If you need help about how to approach weaning yourself off coffee or caffeine in any other form, check out this guide by the Huffington Post.