Are you addicted to caffeine? Or, to put it another – less harsh sounding way – do you 'need' a coffee to kickstart your morning? Or an afternoon cup of joe to get you through that post-lunch slump?
Acknowledging our dependence on caffeine isn't easy. After all, the majority of caffeine-filled food and drinks – such as coffee, tea and chocolate – are delicious.
Our lives can revolve around caffeine, from waking up to the smell of hot java to grabbing a flat white at lunchtime. And yet we often forget that caffeine is a drug that while safe, certainly interferes with our body's natural energy processes.
In addition, over time we can become more used to caffeine's effects, which means we crave even more of it just to get the same kick.
The science behind caffeine
When caffeine molecules reach the brain, they take the place of the molecule adenosine, entering our brain cells’ receptors in its place. Adenosine is what generates a feeling of tiredness and regulates our wake-sleep cycle. Because caffeine blocks adenosine from our brain cells, it has the effect of not making us feel so tired.
What’s more, this feeling is boosted by adrenaline, which is secreted from glands that detect too much adenosine in the system.
Over time, more and more caffeine leads to the brain creating additional cell receptors to cater for the adenosine. A vicious circle, this results in you drinking more caffeine. In the long-run this can even alter the makeup of your brain.
Signs of caffeine addiction
So... are you addicted to caffeine? It can be hard to tell, as we all react to it in different ways. But there are often some clear signs that caffeine may be holding you back in life, rather than carrying you forward…
Tired all the time
Isn’t it weird that you can feel tired despite drinking loads of coffee? Isn’t caffeine meant to eradicate tiredness?
The unfortunate side-effect of caffeine consumption is that when those molecules have broken down (after a few hours) there's a rush of adenosine back to your brain cells. As an article reviewed in Medical News Today puts it, 'when caffeine wears off, adenosine molecules can bind to their receptors, which can cause sleepiness'.
Over time your brain becomes engaged in a constant battle to level up adenosine by creating more receptors, to which the body’s response is to drink more coffee. This is what leads to you needing more caffeine each day just to get the same boost.
Whether coffee, tea or even high-caffeinated energy drinks get you going, noticing your caffeine intake is increasing is a clear sign you may be addicted. Remember, your body and brain is trying to combat the feeling of tiredness that comes with a caffeine comedown, and so you drink more to alleviate it.
Finding time for more caffeine
How long do you spend getting ready in the morning? Sometimes it can be a mad rush from your alarm going off all the way to your desk. Coffee may get you moving, but you still feel rushed. And yet, when your workday is just about to start, you manage to find time to squeeze in another coffee.
Where did that time come from? Possibly a subconscious desire to neck more caffeine and keep your 'buzz' going.
I know it’s bad but…
Many caffeine addicts keep downing coffees or teas while knowing it doesn't do them any good. Perhaps they suffer from coffee-related migraines, or have bowel issues from too much tea. Yet they drink it anyway.
The US Addiction Center states that, 'continued caffeine use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of caffeine' is a clear indication of addiction.
Actually knowing that what you’re consuming may be doing you harm and consuming it anyway is perhaps the biggest red flag there is.
Of course, knowing you’re addicted to caffeine is just part of the problem. After all, smokers know the damage they’re doing to their health but smoke all the same. So, rather than just going cold turkey, you'll need to have a plan...
How to quit caffeine (without feeling terrible)
Realising you’re addicted to caffeine isn't a great feeling. Like any addiction, the idea of not getting that fix can be scary. How else will you cope?! This kind of fear is often one of the biggest obstacles to kicking any kind of habit.
The main way to overcome this fear is to remind yourself of the negative impacts caffeine can have.
As Professor James Elander of Derby University says: 'It’s important to remember that caffeine isn’t dangerous but limiting your intake can help to avoid agitation, twitching, nervousness, sleeplessness, rambling thoughts and speech, not to mention stomach disturbances and needing to pee more frequently.'
Start by cutting down your caffeine intake. An easy way to do this is to replace your regular caffeine with a different, less intense, source. Drinking tea instead of coffee, for example. Of course, you can also go for decaf coffee. Just be mindful that it's not totally free of caffeine, so while it's great for helping cut down, you'll need to eventually ditch it if you really want to go caffeine-free.
To quit caffeine you'll need to get through about 7-12 days of symptoms. That might not sound that long, but in reality even a day of mild suffering is tough to endure. One way to make it easier on yourself is to mark the next 12 days on your calendar and allocate some kind of treat for each of them. This can be anything that brings you pleasure, from shopping to working out, cinema trips or watching football with your mates.
Knowing you have a reward-packed few days ahead will help you stick to the plan without getting too much of a self-flagellating vibe.
Get your boost elsewhere
Kicking caffeine could make you feel drowsy, forgetful and even suffer flu-like symptoms.
U ULTRA Energy Sport Pro is a caffeine-free and sugar-free, vegan-friendly supplement that is clinically-proven to support your body's natural energy processes. That means your body will use its energy more efficiently, giving you a boost without relying on any kind of stimulant at all. Supported with a balanced, nutritious diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein and fats, U ULTRA Energy Sport Pro is your best bet for staying energised all day long with none of the side effects associated with caffeine.
Part of what many of us love about drinking coffee and tea is the ritual. Whether it’s snuggling up to a warm mug of tea in front of a roaring fire in winter, or sipping an iced coffee during a hot city break, the associated rituals of caffeine can be just as motivating as the drug itself.
Yet quitting caffeine doesn’t mean you have to totally eradicate that ritual from your life. As dietitian Carlene Thomas says, you can, 'mimic the flavour and ritual of coffee, if that's the placebo you are looking for'.
Chicory root 'coffee' and herbal teas (peppermint is our go-to!) do a great job of replicating the comforting warmth of a cup of tea or coffee, without any of the caffeine.
Change your mindset
Senior Therapist for Allen Carr Addiction Clinic, John Dicey, says the physiological barrier of telling yourself you can never have caffeine actually makes it harder to quit. Instead, you should tell yourself you simply don’t want coffee in your life.
'The easy way is to think through why you drink coffee, understand that your consumption is driven by addiction rather than genuine desire, and accept that any benefits or pleasure you think you derive from caffeine consumption are actually illusory,' says Dicey.
'The idea is to decide that you don’t want it anymore rather than to feel that you aren’t allowed it.' The difference between those two mindsets can be the difference between quitting with ease and struggling to do so, likely with a few relapses along the way. But remember, if you do find it hard to quit, that's probably even more of a sign that it's a good idea to do so. And even if it takes you multiple attempts, every attempt will be easier than the last.