Coffee and caffeine dependence
Everyone’s favorite drink
Although not intentional, caffeine ‘enslavement’ is one of the most widespread forms of dependence on any substance. Culturally sanctioned use of caffeine as a mild stimulant is customary and daily consumption of a few cups of black coffee is commonplace. A cup of morning coffee generates a sense of well being, enhances attention and helps build focus. For many, coffee is part of the daily routine and a break in that routine is unacceptable.
Caffeine is not a classical euphoria-producing agent. It acts on certain brain chemicals that normally produce tiredness and lethargy. Caffeine consumption disinhibits the reward neurotransmitters thus generating wellness and attentive focus. The body’s natural stimulant mechanism gets activated and evidently performance improves. This effect is exploited by energy drinks like Red Bull and Mountain Dew and to a small extent in Pepsi and Coke and moderately by people when they consume tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
Reinforcement and intoxication
100mg of caffeine consumption (the amount present in one cup of coffee) offers well being. With an increasing amount of daily use to 2 or 3 cups (which is socially well accepted) tolerance develops and one can consume even larger quantities without realizing the harmful potential. An average cup of tea has one-third the amount of caffeine as coffee, while some medicines (for migraine) have one and a half times as that in coffee. Consumption of 3 rapid cups of coffee (or other drinks like tea, Pepsi, Coke or Red Bull) by a caffeine naive individual may produce symptoms of caffeine intoxication with anxiety, tremulousness and restlessness, often simulating generalized anxiety.
Caffeine to fight sleep
Since caffeine is stimulating, it may hamper sleep (a lot of people have coffee to stay up in the night). Many report difficulty in falling asleep, inability to stay asleep or early morning awakening after an evening caffeine drink. Caffeine can reverse the effect of some sleeping pills but cannot fight the body’s natural sleep. Persistent sleep deprivation lethargy is not combatted by a cup of coffee. In fact sleep deprivation + caffeine results in sever anxiety. People fail to realize that and wrongly continue their heavy caffeine consumption in sleep-deprived states like exams and during important business commitments.
No one appreciates the concept of caffeine dependence unless they experience a day when they don’t get their usual tea or coffee. On such days they experience caffeine withdrawal with irritability, headache, restlessness and the so-called ‘bad moods.’ They realize that they need their coffee to cure the headache but fail to see that they have gotten ‘dependent’ on it.
MINDFRAMES: Reframing harmful use
Management of dependence involves reduction or cessation of caffeine consumption. Occasionally a low dose of an anxiolytic helps in the initial withdrawal state. Caffeine dependence is the lesser of other evils but is problematic nonetheless and ought to be watched for to assure a substance free and peaceful existence. Substance dependence is an illness. People with diabetes, cancer and cardiac conditions get sympathy and understanding from their loved ones; sadly this is not the case with something like dependence on coffee and tea! Here the best person who can help oneself is oneself. It makes sense to do it sooner than later.