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The Ugly Truth About Caffeine Addiction

Published on October 2, 2020 7:55 AM EST
The Ugly Truth About Caffeine Addiction

I am having surgery soon, and I can’t drink caffeine for ten days before and at least a few weeks after, if ever again. Now, I knew I drank an excessive amount of Diet Coke, so about a month and a half before starting my preop diet, I replaced Diet Coke with Pure Leaf Unsweetened Black Tea. This change accomplished getting rid of carbonation (another thing that is permanently off the list), and frankly, I felt fine. I thought this was a good indicator that kicking out the caffeine addiction wouldn’t be hard; I got cocky. 

The day came (2 weeks before starting my preop diet) when it was time to cut all caffeine. I thought I was brilliant and started applying my vitamin patches early, which included B12, iron, and vitamin D. In my mind, these extra boosts would make the caffeine withdrawal painless. After all, it was just tea! 

The Ugly Truth About Caffeine Addiction

The first day I barely felt any different, and I told my sister this would be a piece of cake. Then I woke up on the morning of day two and swore I was going to die. I googled caffeine addiction that morning and was shocked by what I learned.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant drug that works on the brain and nervous system. Caffeine intoxication is an actual disorder and is mentioned in the DSM-5. For a brief period, the user experiences increased energy and alertness, but it comes with some of these unpleasant symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Agitation
  • Increased heart rate
  • Upset stomach
  • Increased urination 

I never noticed these things while I was plying myself full of Diet Coke and tea. However, now that I am over a week out, it is clear I am much less irritable. It was difficult to get here, though, as the withdrawal symptoms were terrible. 

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How do you know if you are addicted?

Caffeine addiction is determined by how the caffeine affects daily functioning and not by the amount that a person consumes. However, most experts recommend that people consume less than 400mg of caffeine a day. There are 46mg in one 12oz can of Diet Coke. How severe your dependence is can be gauged by the answers to these questions: 

  1. How upset do you feel when you want caffeine and can’t get it?
  2. What kind of disruptions does the lack of caffeine cause you?

If you want to stop drinking caffeine because you realize that it affects your health, but have a persistent craving for it, and then resume drinking it, you are likely addicted.

What are the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal?

The killer headache I had that lasted for 3-4 days is the symptom most people notice. I also could barely get out of bed. Other signs that people experience are difficulty concentrating, feeling depressed, and irritable.

According to Elizabeth Hartley, BSc., MSc., MA, Ph.D., people withdrawing from caffeine also experience flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain or stiffness. Others also experience anxiety and tremors. Thank goodness I didn’t have that! 

How do you kick out caffeine addiction?

According to Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, “Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal should only last between two and nine days, with peak intensity of symptoms occurring 24–51 hours after caffeine is cut out.” I can attest to this terrible ordeal’s length, and of course, I did it backward.

Jillian recommends cutting back slowly, or replacing one form for another. However, the tea has slightly less caffeine. Not enough to matter, but it has less. Quitting cold turkey can “shock the body and make withdrawal symptoms worse.” Well, damn. 

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The experts say to replace some caffeinated drinks with water, or the decaf equivalent. More water is essential because if you get dehydrated, the headache and fatigue will be worse.

To combat the fatigue, you need to be getting enough sleep. The magic number of hours is between 7-9. Don’t try to pull an all-nighter and quit caffeine simultaneously; that just sounds disastrous! 

Last but not least, find natural ways of boosting your energy. Those vitamin patches probably would have helped a little more had I started them the week before. Exercise and nutrient-filled foods are another way to keep that energy level up. Yoga, meditation, and other stress-reducing activities will also help! 

What does it feel like on the other side?

I feel so much better. I don’t get crabby with everyone around 3:00 pm anymore because I need a Diet Coke. Overall, I am far less irritable. I feel like for the first time in my adult life; I am actually drinking the proper amount of water. I am less hungry too, although that probably has more to do with the aspartame from the Diet Coke…

I am sleeping better at night. I was drinking caffeine way too late in the evening, like hours after dinner. Considering I got started first thing morning, it’s a wonder I slept at all! 

Vitamins, more sleep, more water, and no caffeine have treated me well over the last 11 days. I am so thankful I went through this before the preop diet, which will also be challenging. Handling all of that at one time might have broken me. I would recommend kicking the cans of coke to the curb, though, especially since they are damaging for more reasons than caffeine addiction.

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