Saturday, February 14, 2009


Caffeine is an addictive psychoactive drug like any other. The fact that it is legal and is used by the majority of humans doesn't make it any better for you. It's a space-filler: It soaks up your time and money and may indirectly damage your health while giving you nothing in return.

Like all addictive substances, the problem is acclimation. You may get a jolt of "energy" from your first caffeine experience, but the high becomes less and less the more you use it. Soon, you are using the drug not to feel good but just to avoid feeling bad.

Yes, caffeine may help you get started, but it also invisibly creates the condition where you can't get started without it. There is no free lunch in the brain: Every "high" at one point in time must be paid for with a "low" or painful withdrawal at another time. Those are just the laws of physics.

There is a huge economy based on caffeine addiction. The massive soft drink and coffee industries depend on it. As with any other drug trade, the profit margins are huge. This supports ubiquitous advertising campaigns to convince us we are consuming the drug for some reason other than addiction.

Is caffeine a "harmless" drug? People don't usually kill each other over it, and there is no substantial evidence linking it to direct health damage, so why not?

It's unnecessary, for one thing. Why invest in an expensive habit that does nothing for you? The cost of caffeinated drinks, in both money and time, is substantial. $4 lattes and $1.50 sodas add up over time—equivalent to a smoker's outlay for cigarettes. $5 spent on caffeine every day is $150/month or $1800/year, a non-trivial amount in anyone's budget.

The health effects of caffeine are indirect, arising from the drink that carries the drug. Sugared soft drinks and sweetened or creamed coffee can contribute to obesity and tooth decay and displace healthier foods.

When you are addicted to caffeinated beverages, you also take in much more liquid than your body needs. The craving for the drug is often mistaken for "thirst" and encourages drinking even when the body is well-hydrated. While there is no proven health damage from taking in too much liquid, it certainly means you have to pee more often. Instead of 3-5 times a day, you might have to go every hour or more. All these pit stops add up and can be a real burden to your daily activities. (If your pee is more clear than yellow, you are obviously drinking more than your body needs.)

If you're a caffeine addict, maybe you should just admit it and start taking caffeine pills instead (NoDoz™ or similar). That would be cheaper and would strip caffeine of its veneer of respectability.

Probably the most costly effect of this or any other drug is simply that you become a slave to it. Instead of living the best life for your own real needs, you are arranging your life to serve the addiction. This can happen in many subtle ways. Maybe you can't get any work done until you have your morning fix, which means you can't work just anywhere. You have to have the caffeine delivery infrastructure in place, which may not be available everywhere you go.

How do you kick caffeine? It's just like quitting any other drug. You decide to quit, then you do it. There is no easy way. The initial detoxification period is going to be difficult, but as you get over the hump and your brain chemistry adjusts, it gets easier and easier. Soon, you might even find the effects of caffeine unpleasant and avoid it without any difficulty.

In a culture steeped in caffeine, there's always a chance of backsliding. Caffeine is often seen as fun and trendy. People freely admit their addiction like it's something to be proud of, but that doesn't mean it's right for you. Is that what you life is all about: just serving your addictions? If not, then you have to change.

Also see: soft drinks, addiction, addiction treatment.

1 comment:

  1. Good article, it's all very true. I personally struggled with a pretty serious level of caffeine dependency. I drank half a large pitcher of tea a day for years, and that was just the base of my caffeine intake. Energy drinks and sodas were not uncommon. The more money I had to spend, the more caffeine I drank.

    Along with the use of other drugs and a particularly stressful life, I drove my body into the ground and suffered from anxiety and paranoia, something that caffeine only aggravates. I was having daily panic attacks, and found it necessary to quit caffeine completely. I felt like a zombie for about a month; I was not exempt from withdrawals. In time, though, my body started to function a lot more naturally. In fact, food started to play the role it's meant to, in that it provided my body and mind with a very clean energy. My anxiety and paranoia got a lot better, too.

    However, a year and a half later, I'm taking in caffeine again. As much as I know its ultimately unnecessary and will drive my health into the ground as it did before (and likely to a lower low, as the years have left their mark), I take pride in simply being a lot more aware of what I'm doing to my own body. It was never my intention to do what I did so unaware I was even doing it.

    I guess the biggest reason I like this article is the awareness factor: as you mention, caffeine is very accepted and viewed as virtually harmless. I wouldn't be surprised if a significant chunk of people's health problems stem from excessive caffeine intake (not to mention all the sugar that usually comes right with it). But I respect people's freedom to do what they wish with their life and their body. Something's going to kill me sometime anyway; I'm just trying to enjoy myself before that happens. :)

    In short: respect caffeine. Don't shove it down your throat like its nothing, because its not nothing.

    Thanks for the read <3