There’s nothing wrong if you are reading this article between sips of a nice warm cup of coffee. According to recent data from the National Coffee Association (NCA), 62 percent of Americans drink coffee on daily basis. The average U.S. drinker consumes over 3 cups per day.
The difference between habitual coffee consumption and addiction to caffeine starts when you feel like you can’t “function” in the morning without a strong cup of coffee. Or you only feel productive if you work or study after drinking lots of caffeine every day.
When you get to this stage, what should be a small pleasure becomes a worrying addiction. Consuming caffeine excessively has more cons than benefits. Those benefits also don’t harden over time because the body accustoms to having the stimulant substance regularly.
Leave your cup of coffee aside, and let’s try to understand the difference between habitual consumption and caffeine dependence.
The Trouble With Caffeine Dependence
While that cup of coffee for breakfast seems innocent, most people fail to realize that caffeine is a drug. And as such, many underestimate its side effects. Or do not consider these effects as troubling as those of other types of addictive substances, such as alcohol or nicotine.
Caffeine is a stimulant that you commonly find in a cup of coffee. But there are also smaller or larger doses of teas, chocolates, sodas, energy drinks, and even caffeine pills used to stay awake in the face of overwork or late homework.
When consumed in moderation, caffeine gives your brain a kind of energy boost. You feel the tiredness or sleepiness disappear as you become more alert and awake. However, excessive caffeine consumption can have serious side effects like all stimulants. And although the cases are rare and isolated, there have been occurrences of cardiac arrests motivated by an overdose of it.
So that you can identify if you are consuming more coffee than you should, these are some of the symptoms of excessive consumption of caffeine:
- A headache or dizziness only seems to disappear when you have another cup.
- Feeling overly nervous or noticing that your hands are shaking.
- Insomnia or light sleepers (when you wake up several times throughout the night).
- Accelerated heart or abnormal heartbeat, which can progress to cardiac arrest and even seizures.
- Sudden and unprovoked increase in blood pressure.
- In excessive doses, coffee can cause stomach-related problems like ulcers and GERD (Chronic Acid Reflux).
- Dehydration when you drink more coffee than plain water throughout the day.
- Too much caffeine can indirectly affect your senses and motor skills – including your eyesight; if you stay up through caffeination and use your eyes excessively, it can require you to use glasses or other sight-correcting solutions, although there are more glasses frames to choose from than ever before.
How Much is Too Much?
Earlier in this article, we mentioned that you should consume caffeine in moderation. But how much is a “moderate” amount of coffee anyway? The consensus of doctors is that one or two cups a day – which is equivalent to 200 milligrams of the substance – represents normal and safe consumption.
For the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a healthy adult without heart disease can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine a day, which is equivalent to four cups of coffee. The FDA also considers above 1,200 mg/day an excessive and extreme amount of caffeine, with a serious risk of affecting your health.
Unfortunately, there is an over-reliance on caffeine. This is partly because of public perception, “watered down” or misinformation of its effects. In other words, a cup of coffee is considered a more harmless drug than alcohol, nicotine, or illegal stimulants.
It’s also good to point out that if you’ve already made a habit of drinking many cups of coffee a day in the name of productivity, consuming more caffeine won’t necessarily lead to the same outcome. That same level of alertness? Forget it! Your body doesn’t take long to get used to the substance and stops feeling its stimulant properties; the side effects to your health, on the other hand, are all still there.
How to Quit or Decrease Caffeine Consumption
If you think you are suffering from caffeine dependence, don’t try to stop it at once. Even though the substance is not as addictive as other drugs, you may experience withdrawal symptoms (such as irritation and anxiety) if you abruptly cut coffee from your diet.
Here are some tips for dealing with the situation:
- Gradually reduce your daily amount of coffee until you reach the levels suggested by experts (400 mg/day).
- If you find it difficult to reduce the amount, try swapping your regular coffee for decaffeinated.
- In addition to coffee, stop consuming soft drinks, energy drinks, or tea for a few weeks, opting for water or natural juices (which naturally help your body to release caffeine).
- Avoid that cup of coffee at dinner or just before bed because the body takes between 4 and 6 hours to metabolize caffeine, which can affect your sleep.
By following these steps over two to three weeks, you will be able to reduce your caffeine consumption in a less traumatic way. It’s unnecessary to cut it out of your diet completely, but try to stay on two cups daily.
Don’t Be a Coffee Slave
There is no doubt that coffee can be as pleasant as it’s useful: besides being tasty, the caffeine present in it can be that little boost that an adult needs to stay more awake and focused.
However, everything that is consumed in excess is bad. Some side effects of caffeine addiction are anxiety, insomnia, headaches or stomachaches, and heart problems in more severe cases.
A nice cup of coffee or a glass of soft drink can make your day more pleasant and productive. But avoid becoming dependent on caffeine by keeping your consumption within the 400 mg/day suggested by doctors and the FDA.