How to Break a Caffeine Addiction: The Effects of Caffeine and Caffeine Withdrawal

Coffee, tea and chocolate have been diet standards in Europe and America since the 17th century, giving that extra kick necessary to survive in the Industrial Era and beyond. But the side effects of caffeine–or the dark side–warrant a closer look as someone starts to feel that he/she is consuming too much caffeine in any of its many forms. Here is how to break a caffeine addiction.

The Effects of Caffeine

Coffee and other caffeine-containing treats, including chocolate, do their work via three stimulating compounds: caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline, which all serve to release excess amounts of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter dopamine by obstructing the brain chemical which blocks dopamine release, known as adenosine. The result? We know all too well: a few hours’ reprieve from the sluggishness and mental torpor that we increasingly suspect found their genesis in our daily—perhaps several times daily—ritual. When a person reaches the point where caffeine or coffee is more the cause than the answer to his/her chronic mood and energy slump, it’s time to take a hard look at what it means to experience caffeine withdrawal, and what the other side—life without caffeine—might look like.

Compounding a caffeine addiction are other enticing, and addictive, substances in one’s caffeine-containing drug of choice. Soft drinks include sugar and colorings—both stimulants—while chocolate might lure us with its sugar content, its high fat content, its phenethylamine (a mood-enhancing stimulant), or all of the above.

Caffeine Withdrawal

Tolerance is a phenomenon as naturally occurring the body with sugar or caffeine as it is with nicotine or heroin, and in looking at how to break a caffeine addiction, understanding it becomes key. The negative feedback system of the brain, in place to prevent overstimulation, habituates to the caffeine and serves to undermine the stimulating effects of caffeine by shutting down receptors for the neurotransmitter dopamine; in response, caffeineophiles naturally jack up the dose. A daily cup of coffee, clocking in at 100mg of caffeine, can escalate to a daily coffee-shop confection hammering hundreds of milligrams of stimulants into the central nervous system, encouraging hypertension, increased blood sugar and cholesterol, insomnia, and dehydration. Moreover, even a seemingly low-grade coffee habit—just 100mg—can cause caffeine withdrawal systems including headache, fatigue, and poor concentration.

Breaking a typical caffeine addiction takes just four days; in this time, the brain brings additional dopamine receptors online until they approximate the level typical before the habit began. Below we will look at how to overcome a caffeine addiction through natural alternatives.

How to Overcome the Addiction

A gentle reduction of caffeine can sidestep the unpleasant effects of caffeine withdrawal. Black tea contains less caffeine than most coffee, and green tea still less so. But even green tea fosters the same cadre of nasty side effects when overused. The answer? Glutamine, an amino acid known as an addiction-buster (and, incidentally, improves mental performance), provides a gentle kick similar to that provided by any stimulant; Dr. Hyla Cass and Patrick Cass recommend taking two to five grams between meals.

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