Feel like you cannot function without reaching for a cup of coffee first thing in the morning? 

Do you find yourself drinking coffee or tea throughout the day in order to find that elusive burst of energy to keep you going?

If yes, then according to recent research you might be addicted to caffeine. Use of caffeine is prevalent throughout the world, so much so that it is the most used mood-altering drug. Found in daily foods like, coffee, tea, cocoa, cola and soft drinks, caffeine is an essential part of most people’s diets. 

Although caffeine is not associated with any major health risks and is consumed by most people across various cultures, research in this area over the past few years indicates that caffeine dependence is as tangible and true as alcohol or nicotine dependence. People often report wanting to get a cup of coffee in order to get a slight energy high to last a long night of studying or feeling a brain fog if they don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning. All of this points to the fact that just like any other form of substance dependence, individuals addicted to caffeine find it very difficult to cut down on the substance and often experience withdrawal symptoms when they try. Though there is nothing wrong with having your daily dose of caffeine, it is better to be aware of what effect this substance has on you, especially when it can be addictive and harmful in excessive doses. 

How does caffeine affect our body? 

Caffeine usually alters the mood so that you feel alert and happy. It binds with adenosine receptors- a neurochemical responsible for making you feel sleepy- to prevent the adenosine from entering the circuit. This causes dopamine levels to spike which in turn leads to the jolt in energy and kick in your mood.Prolonged use of caffeine however, can lead to a lot of backed up adenosine molecules which rush to bind with the receptors once the caffeine is out of the system and this can lead to a sudden crash in mood and energy. This can further lead to negative states like anxiety, nervousness and jitteriness.

Another interesting aspect of caffeine is its reinforcing effect. One often becomes a regular caffeine user in order to avoid the small withdrawal effects associated with the substance.  These withdrawal symptoms are quite minor at first like drowsiness or a headache if caffeine is not consumed. However, as tolerance to caffeine increases, larger doses are required to get the desired results. This increase in caffeine consumption can lead to more serious withdrawal symptoms when one tries to quit. These withdrawal symptoms range from fatigue, sluggishness, drowsiness to irritability, depressed mood, anxiety and even flu like symptoms. These  symptoms can be so distressing that the World health organisation recognises caffeine withdrawal and dependence as a disorder in the ICD-10. 

How can you cut down your caffeine intake?

In order to reduce cut down on your use of caffeine, going cold turkey is not suggested due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Some ways to cut down caffeine intake gradually are-

  • mixing in decaffeinated coffee to your normal coffee 

  • brewing your tea for a lesser amount of time. This reduces the amount of caffeine. 

  • Shifting from coffee or tea to green tea, which has lower caffeine levels. 

Other ways to manage the withdrawal symptoms are-

  • Exercise regularly: Exercising helps release dopamine in the brain which will help counter the irritable and depressed mood states that are associated with quitting caffeine. 

  • Eat healthy: Eating healthy and nutritional food will help maintain energy levels and lead to a balanced metabolism which is often affected with excess caffeine consumption.

  • Stay Hydrated: It is extremely essential to drink plenty of water as the body goes through the detox period of quitting caffeine. It also helps manage withdrawal symptoms like nausea, fatigue, headaches and such.