Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed substances on the planet. Its estimated that 90% of adults in North America enjoy some form of caffeine every day. Whether you just need that extra pick-me-up in the morning or love a cup of coffee or tea, caffeine is something many people don’t go a day without. Like all drugs, however, there exists a potential for addiction. While not usually dangerous, caffeine addiction can cause unnecessary frustration in our lives and it may be worth considering cutting back or going without…

Caffeine works by blocking the body’s receptors for a chemical called adenosine, which is a naturally occurring waste product of our cells. Adenosine normally acts to suppress activity in the central nervous system and make us feel tired, and its blockage by caffeine promotes wakefulness and energetic feelings and the release of neurotransmitters that cause alertness.

The problem with caffeine, however, is that the body will quickly adapt to its daily presence. If taken every day, the number of adenosine receptors in the body is increased and thus more caffeine is required for the same affect. In the absence of caffeine, this excess of receptors can make us feel more tired than we otherwise would be. This is the reason coffee and tea drinkers may go from experiencing an additional boost of energy in the mornings to actually requiring a cup just to feel normal. With continued and frequent use, caffeine begins to lose its pleasant stimulating affect and becomes a necessity for daily functioning.

The good news is that the body can return to its natural state before a caffeine addiction, lowering tolerance to the point where it is once again an effective boost of energy. Some people may even enjoy the natural feeling of wakefulness in the mornings enjoyed by those who don’t take caffeine and choose to stay off it for good. A period of abstinence is all that is required to bring your body back into balance.

If one stops taking caffeine abruptly, certain withdrawal symptoms can appear. Commonly these include a headache, nausea, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and drowsiness. Symptoms usually persist for a period of 2-9 days. To lessen the frustration of withdrawal, those who drink more than one cup of coffee or tea a day may choose to gradually cut down over time instead of going cold turkey. Eliminating extra sources of caffeine, such as soda, and switching to lower-caffeine alternatives such as green or white tea may also be of help, or slowly diluting your coffee with decaf. If you’re currently experiencing the withdrawal effects of caffeine, drinking cold water and vigorous exercise can work to keep them manageable.

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