I have been doing a lot of reading up on and learning about substance use problems and addictions and I quickly realized that I was using caffeine on a daily and habitual basis. I wondered if I was “addicted” to caffeine. Addiction in the sense that there is a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance. Addictions always have negative consequences (think of those who are addicted to meth or alcohol). I have been having trouble sleeping at night so I wondered if caffeine was the culprit.
I also wondered if cutting out caffeine would cause me any withdrawal symptoms and if I was physically or psychologically dependent on it. I am not a heavy caffeine user. I have two, maybe three cups of orange pekoe tea (i.e. Red Rose) a day. Sometimes I have a special green tea drink. I rarely drink cola anymore. The chocolate I eat is also something I feel I am dependent on but that’s for another day!
I woke up as usual, around 7:00 am and boiled my hot water for tea. This time I put orange pekoe decaf tea in the cup (i.e. Typhoo). I added some milk and I realized in my mind, I was preparing for withdrawal such as headaches and fatigue. Most people are afraid of getting a headache as a caffeine-withdrawal symptom. I made sure I had my ginger tablets with me just in case. I enjoyed my cup of tea and tried to trick my brain that it had caffeine. Just to see if that helped.
By 9:30 am, while at work, I was noticing a “foggy and fuzzy” feeling on my face.
I imagined if I had had some caffeine at this point, perhaps the foggy feeling would go away. I had a glass of water to help with any dehydration/thirst symptoms.
At noon I had my lunch. I enjoyed another decaf tea with milk. I was feeling a little fuzzy in the face still. Kind of like what I feel like when I first wake up in the morning.
At 1:00 pm I was feeling some heat in my cheeks. A tired feeling was coming over me. I needed to be alert for work. I noticed I was craving sugar and carbohydrates. It’s as if my brain was telling me what to have to help perk me up if I can’t have caffeine. The second best option was sugar and carbs. So I had a couple of little candies. It helped for a short time.
By 2:30 pm I was feeling tired and was craving potato chips. I knew a cup of tea would help curb my afternoon crash, but I wanted to see if I could work through it. I had a few chips. It helped.
The need for carbs continued. At 3:45 pm I had some Nutella on a rice cake. By now I am totally convinced my body is craving sugar and carbs for a little energy boost to help keep me awake.
I can see how easy it is – and perhaps a healthier choice – to grab a cup of tea (or coffee for coffee drinkers) when you need a little “pick-me-up.”
Going for a tea (or coffee) seems a lot healthier than eating candies and potato chips. I then started to think about those who smoke and want to quit smoking. I have often heard how people gain weight when they quit. I can now understand why that is.
By 5:15 pm I was snacking before dinner. I ate a small piece of leftover garlic toast. I also had another glass of water to help me push through until dinner time.
During dinner, I told my family that I had not had any caffeine today and that I felt like I never completely woke up.
After dinner, I felt very sluggish and tired. I had less energy and felt like having a nap on the couch. I fought it though.
When bedtime came around, I was yawning, felt tired, but unfortunately had trouble falling asleep. My theory of “a caffeine-free day will help me sleep at night” was disproven. The other theory of getting a “caffeine-withdrawal headache” was also disproven.
So, I’ve decided that it’s okay for me to have my cup of tea, or two, or not. I can go without it if I need to. I don’t consider myself dependent or addicted to caffeine. I see it as a comfort and habit that helps curb my appetite. It also helps me “wake up.” I have also read there are health benefits of drinking tea (and coffee) in reasonable amounts. Especially green tea. I will continue to work on my insomnia issues.
Challenge yourself to a caffeine-free day and see what you learn about yourself and your relationship to caffeine.
Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW