September 27th, 2019
Opinion editor presents a medium roast on her caffeine dependence
WED. | 10-28-20 | OPINION
8 A.M. Every other Friday. Starbucks drive-through. Venti Americano with 3 Splenda, 3 Grande Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Venti Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew and a Grande Iced Caramel Cloud Macchiato. This is the life of someone that is a coffee fein and someone who fuels others’ coffee dependence. That someone is me, and I am a recovering coffee addict. The first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem.
Caffeinated products, such as coffee and soda, are increasingly common parts of the average person’s diet. Healthline notesthat “80% of the world’s population consumes a caffeinated product each day, and this number goes up to 90% for adults in North America.” Coffee is so common that your order can be associated with certain personality traits, as found in an observational study by Dr. Ramani Durvasula of 1000 coffee drinkers. For all you latte lovers, research indicates you may not take great care of yourself. Though, I would like to think that my coffee addiction alone — not that I like my coffee infused with milk — should indicate
that I do not take great care of myself.
As coffee has become a staple to many people’s routines, it’s worth noting some reasons it is so integral to 80% of the world.
Image by Lexi Karaivanova
The most obvious reason people drink coffee is for it's caffeine content, energizing the drinker. For others, it is simply the taste of coffee that has them coming back for more. In either of those scenarios, coffee can become addictive, so individuals end up needing to drink coffee to function without withdrawal symptoms — more on this later, though. I, for one, have grown to love the taste of coffee and the many ways you can customize your drink, but that was not the case when I first started drinking it. I just wanted the caffeine it offered.
My codependent relationship with coffee goes back to middle school, when I started pulling all-nighters. Truth be told, I hated the first cup of coffee I drank in middle school. For context, my mom believes that only espresso counts as coffee, sticking to her European roots, so my first cup of coffee was actually just 3 shots of strong espresso. For non-coffee experts, espresso has a much higher concentration of caffeine per ounce than coffee does; the United States Department of Agriculture states that there is about 63 mg of caffeine in one ounce of espresso, while drip coffee has about 14 mg. This may come as a shocker, but it is not the best idea to start a sleep-deprived 12 year-old on almost 200 mg of espresso — mind you, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that 400 mg is the healthy limit for grown adults, and the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages children and adolescents from consuming caffeine at all. To this day, at almost 18, I still avoid plain espresso when possible. Despite my initial issues with the taste, I loved the energy espresso gave me. Because I was not sleeping that much, espresso was the only reason I could stay up throughout the day. Now, had I not been pulling all-nighters every night and only occasionally drinking espresso, coffee and I would have gotten along without any harm being done. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Let this be a warning to all: replacing the need to sleep with caffeine is a recipe for disaster. For starters, caffeine is classified as a central-nervous-system stimulant. That puts caffeine in the same category as amphetamines and cocaine, as noted by psychology Professors David M. Veleber and Donald I. Tempter While caffeine may energize someone in the short-run, Veleber and Tempter’s research concluded that high caffeine consumption can lead to depressive and anxious tendencies — irritability, nervousness and restlessness. I was living proof of that for a while. When I was drinking coffee as a regular replacement for sleep, I had multiple panic attacks each day and each panic attack would occur immediately after I consumed caffeine. At the time, I did not make the connection that caffeine was worsening my already fickle mental state. As I tried to use caffeine as a temporary fix to my lack of sleep, I ended up doing myself more harm than good. It was like pouring gasoline all over a car and not anticipating a fire in the near future. I needed to address my sleep habits at their core rather than drinking more coffee. But once it became habitual for me to consume a lot of coffee, it was hard to stop.
This is where the aforementioned instances of addiction and withdrawal come back into the conversation. The 5th Edition Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not have caffeine use disorder listed as something you can get medically diagnosed with yet — more research is needed — but nonetheless it was deemed worthy of being defined and proposed as a mental issue. Currently, the DSM-5 has listed three major symptoms of caffeine use disorder.
The first criterion is “a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control caffeine use.” When I had the idea to do this article I was drinking about six to eight shots of espresso a day, so I also set a goal of cutting back my coffee consumption. Unfortunately, I somehow still ended up drinking multiple caffeinated beverages each day.
The next criterion for caffeine use disorder is “continued caffeine use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by caffeine.” As I did the research necessary to write this article, and I reminisced on my own bad past experiences with caffeine, I could no longer deny that my coffee consumption was unhealthy. Consuming too much caffeine is associated with an increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as jitteriness. My body constantly feels like it is shaking internally and externally. But iced lattes just taste so good!
The last major indicator of caffeine use disorder is withdrawal, whether it is manifested as symptoms (such as “headache, fatigue, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating and flu-like symptoms”) or through consuming caffeine “to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.” Now, I cannot speak on withdrawal from recent experiences — I have clearly failed at intentionally reducing my caffeine intake. Though, I am most certainly guilty of having awful headaches before I drink my first coffee of the day. While the FDA notes that “Unlike opioid or alcohol withdrawal, caffeine withdrawal is not considered dangerous,” I would still argue it is too discomforting; it is much easier to just drink a cup of coffee than willingly endure headaches.
While I can relate to each aforementioned criterion, this is by no means an official diagnosis for me or for anyone else. Rather, I like to view it as a checklist of warning signs. In the long run, it is only to one’s benefit to limit caffeine intake, thus avoiding this whole never-ending cycle of caffeine dependence.