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Wednesday, 09 Jun 2021

Caffeine: The Socially Accepted Addiction (And How to Kick It)

By Dr Becky Spelman
Caffeine: The Socially Accepted Addiction | Private Therapy Clinic

Caffeine occupies a strange place within western culture. By all accounts, it exhibits all the traits of a narcotic – or illicit substance. It’s stimulating, you have incredible highs and crashing lows, you develop an increased tolerance for it over time. And if you try to quit, you can end up on a rollercoaster of frayed nerves, lethargy, other unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Yet, it’s legal, because it’s seen as a socially acceptable way of ‘getting thing done.’ It’s essentially a productivity drug, which, has caused many people to abuse it massively – burning the candle at both ends – and ultimately burning themselves out. Caffeine addiction is very real. And it can be a tough one to get out of your system, because of the accessibility and widespread acceptance. But if taken too far, it can have detrimental effects on both your mental and physical health.

Side Effects of Caffeine on Your Body

When you in-take caffeine into your system, you can feel the effects come on within a matter of minutes. And it can – and does – stay within your system for many hours afterwards. How long exactly depends on the dosage, your metabolism and how quickly your body can absorb it. Meaning, caffeine can stay in you for as little as two hours all the way up to twelve hours, and it can affect the body in a variety of ways.

Hormones

One of the most noticeable and significant effects caffeine has on the body is through your hormones. It serves as a disrupter to many of the regulatory systems that you rely on to keep you in a balanced emotional state, in addition to other cognitive functions.

Adenonsine: Caffeine has been shown to inhibit the absorption of the hormone adensonine, which helps the body remain in a relaxed state. While in the short-term, this can be a desirable effect, but over time, it can cause issues with sleeping patterns.

Adrenaline: When you ingest caffeine, what it’s actually doing is releasing adrenaline into your system. This gives you a temporary boost, but will eventually lead to crashing fatigue, as the body runs down its stores adrenaline. If you continue to take more and more caffeine to offset this effect, it can leave you feeling agitated and moody.

Cortisol: Since caffeine promotes a sense of fight or flight and rapid productivity, it’s no surprise that it triggers the release of the “stress hormone” cortisol within the system. This can have a knock-on effect on other aspects of your health, such as weight gain, mood, heart disease, and diabetes.

Dopamine: This is the pleasure and reward chemical which is associated most commonly with hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. It acts in a similar way making you feel good initially, but leads to a mental and physical low-ebb, which promotes dependency.

Other Factors

Sleep: Caffeine can throw off your sleep cycle by making it harder to get to sleep, and therefore shortening the length of time that you get to enjoy a proper restorative sleep. This ultimately takes a toll on your alertness the following day, which can prompt you to use more caffeine to help offset the effects.

Weight: It’s also been suggested that increased levels of cortisol may lead to increased cravings for certain macro-nutrients such as carbohydrates and fats. This, in turn, causes the body to store more fat around the abdomen area. Caffeine has also been shown to decrease the ability to taste sweet foods, and increase cravings for sugary snacks. Although, this may be offset – at least somewhat – by the fact that caffeine can increase metabolism by up to 30% if consumed prior to exercise.

Exercise: As caffeine is known to elevate cortisol in addition to other hormones during the peak of its effect, it can leave the body feeling fatigued afterwards, thus making not only exercise more difficult but also basic physical movement. However, when used in moderation, it can provide significant boosts in performance. And when coupled with fat-burning properties, it makes it an attractive option for people looking to lose weight.

How to Get Over Your Caffeine Addiction (The Right Way)

There two ways to get over caffeine addiction, and depending on your levels of dependency, you may want to choose one method over the other. If you have a serious caffeine addiction, you’ll most likely want to taper off gradually. But if you’re only a moderate drinker, you could get away with taking a hard-line approach and going cold turkey.

Cold Turkey 

This is exactly what it says it is – you stop drinking all caffeinated drinks – immediately. But you should be aware that while this is the fastest way to detox, it is often the most turbulent. It can be a huge shock to the system to give up caffeine. Here are some things to bear in mind.

Advantages

  • It’s by far the fastest way to detox caffeine
  • If you handle it, you’re more likely to make the change stick.
  • It’s a more empowering way to quit.

Disadvantages

  • You can suffer severe caffeine withdrawal symptoms
  • You may find yourself incapacitated for days or even weeks as your adrenals gland take the time to heal.
  • It can lead to a serious loss of productivity at the outset.
  • The withdrawal symptoms can make you give up on the idea of quitting altogether if they’re severe enough.

The Tapering Off Method (Recommended)

Most people tend to find that the tapering method is more suited to maintaining their current lifestyle and productivity demands as it involves far less downtime, less withdrawals and can allow you to maintain decent – if not quite optimal – levels of productivity. As most heavy caffeine users are fast-paced individuals, this approach often makes the most sense.

Advantages

  • Withdrawal symptoms are far less pronounced and in some cases even non-existent.
  • You can generally continue to be very productive.
  • There are no nasty headaches to deal with.
  • It’s less of a shock to the system.

Disadvantages

  • If you’re heavy user it can take a lot longer to detox.
  • You need to be vigilant in tracking how much you’re reducing your intake by.
  • You can quite easily fall into a trap of kidding yourself about your progress.
  • You can be prone to cheating.

About the author:

Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.

***If you’re struggling with caffeine addiction and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.

References

Very Well Mind (17th Jan 2020) Caffeine, Stress and Your Health. Retrieved on 25th December, 2020 from, https://www.verywellmind.com/caffeine-stress-and-your-health-3145078

Health Line (28th Sept 2018) The Effects of Caffeine on Your Body. Retrieved on 25th December, 2020 from, https://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-effects-on-body

Webmd (28th Sept 2018) Caffeine Myths and Facts. Retrieved on 25th December, 2020 from, https://www.webmd.com/diet/caffeine-myths-and-facts

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