How I actively manage my Caffeine Addiction ☕️

Mindfulness • Productivity

July 24, 2022

by Yassen Shopov


I first started drinking coffee in 10th grade, while I was still in high school in Bulgaria.

Just to preface this story, and in case you want a short summary - I never developed a problem with drinking coffee or any significant bad side effects from the whole thing. Nevertheless, it’s been a few years now that I have been drinking on average 2 cups of coffee a day. I feel like, as with any substance, it’s a good thing to reflect on the habit and to reflect on the pros and cons of being a coffee drinker.

I didn’t really start drinking coffee out of necessity, it was more of a “growing-up” tradition. My parents drink coffee every morning, and it was ingrained in me that it was the natural thing to do when growing up. Plus, when you put a few spoons of sugar into the mix, it becomes quite a tasty drink, even for non-drinkers.

So in the beginning, it was the easiest thing in the world to integrate it into my morning routine. As I often had to wake up at 6:30 am for school, it made sense to also drink a cup of coffee while waiting for my brain to boot up. Then, after a year or two, most of my friends were also drinking coffee so it became a social thing. Coffee shops have this great conversational atmosphere that I love, and almost every outing could become a coffee shop meetup eventually.

The thing was, while still in high school, I couldn’t really go over the line with coffee - my mum would know if I had a cup late into the night or if I simply had too many. So it wasn’t until I got my first job (as a barista, ironically), that I got to drink as much coffee as I wanted. On some work days, it went up to 4 cups daily, which definitely started getting me fidgety.

Then came university, and with that, coffee started becoming more and more a part of my personality. I’m studying Engineering, and that goes hand-in-hand with some workload, so the running gag of engineering students having caffeine in their veins became a reality.

At that point, I had already stopped getting the positive effects of caffeine, like being energetic, and instead only suffered from withdrawal on the few days I went without a cup of coffee. Eventually, I could fall asleep directly after a cup of coffee, with none of the energising effects remaining. It was at about this time that I decided I need to lower my consumption, and preferably go cold-turkey for a month to get a feel of what it is to go without caffeine.


Coffee detoxing

Coincidentally, it was at the same time that I started watching Matt D’Avella’s 30-day challenges on YouTube. He was going through a 30-day coffee detox, and that inspired me to try it out for myself.

The first few days were a pain, and not so much because of the withdrawal (I only had light headaches at the time), but mainly due to the force of habit. It had become a ritual for me, every time I sat down to study or do some work, to make a cup. And since I’m studying in the UK, the winter months made it extra important to have a warm drink every now and then.

But, difficult or not, I had to force myself through that initial week.

And after maybe 14 days, it started getting easy. Waking up was no longer difficult since I naturally started going to bed at a normal time. So my body started adjusting to the normal sleep cycles, and I mostly felt tired and low-energy before sleep, which wasn’t a bad thing at all.

At about the time I reached the 30th day, I started missing the ritual of making coffee. I had switched to tea, but I am not naturally a tea-drinker, and it wasn’t my, well, cup of tea. So it was a big relief on day 31 when I had my first cup of coffee in a month.

So far, I have done such a detox twice, and I want to keep doing a 1-month “detox” every year or so. Caffeine is a substance that actively numbs the adenosine receptors in the brain, which creates the effect of addiction - the more you consume, the more adenosine receptors you develop. This means that you will grow sleepier faster once you stop drinking coffee, and the whole thing turns into a cursed cycle.

Here are my two key takeaways from my caffeine detoxes:

  1. It helps you realise that you can be just as awake and focused without caffeine as you were with it.
  2. It makes you actually enjoy the coffee flavour, instead of focusing on the “power boost” it gives you.

The real reason we drink coffee

In my eyes, caffeine addiction, like any other type of addiction, has its roots in a deeper place. Now, the side effects of caffeine are much milder than those of other substances, but there is still some psychology behind coffee consumption.

For myself, I have identified 3 main reasons I consume coffee on the daily.

  1. It is a warm beverage in the cold weather.
  2. Classical conditioning - you start drinking coffee because it gives you energy. Then, even when it no longer makes you feel more awake, you keep having it because you are used to the thought of it bringing you positive energy.
  3. It’s a type of coping strategy. Most of us start drinking coffee to cope with the high intensity of school or university, so it becomes a treasured item - an energy booster. This makes coffee the type of beverage you have when you’re in a rut, and when you need to feel more productive, without necessarily being more productive.

Point #3 is the main reason I believe that making coffee should be more like a ritual. Because of the few steps it takes to make a good cup of coffee (grinding, pouring, mixing, etc.), the focus moves to the drink and the warm feeling it gives you. This makes it harder to get addicted to caffeine itself, something that tends to happen when you go overboard with instant coffee, for example.

By adding some steps between yourself and the addictive substance, you differentiate between the acts of engaging with caffeine and making yourself a cup of coffee.

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