I am a guy who would look out of place without a coffee in his hand whether it is a caramel macchiato from Starbucks or a homemade beverage using the finest illy coffee beans known to man. Most days would involve a few trips to a local coffee house to get my fix of the frothy stuff. Not only am I a massive fan of the taste but I also love the sense of event that ‘going for a brew’ brings. Many decisions, meetings and dates have been made over a cup of Joe and all my family and friends have become accustomed to my hand partnering a hot, steamy cup of coffee. I am a self-confessed caffeine addict; and, although the main concentration has been on coffee, I am also a big fan of tea, caffeinated beverages such as Dr. Pepper, Pepsi and Coke and of course chocolate. That is until Thursday 23rd May 2013 whilst drinking freshly brewed coffee at 21:00 before going to bed one hour later. I thought to myself:
“How has my body become accustomed to this amount of caffeine that, after what was a particularly strong cup of coffee, I could still fall asleep almost immediately when going to bed so close to drinking it? This can’t be healthy!”
From that day onwards I decided that I must take a break from all caffeine products altogether. As with many addictions the general advice is to wean yourself off the substance that you are addicted to. I have never been very good at doing this and usually fall into the trap of temptation somewhere along the line. I respect those who can wean themselves off an addiction but with me it is all or nothing. Anyway, how hard can cold turkey be? At the end of the day it is only caffeine. So, from that day on caffeine would not pass my lips in any form.
After making the decision to forfeit caffeine products completely I naturally made some Google searches to see what I could find out from others. I was shocked at what I found out. From the many posts concerning caffeine addiction, it turns out that I have been showing signs of what is known as ‘Adrenal Exhaustion’, this has never been formally diagnosed by a GP but the symptoms match:
· Chronic Fatigue
· Decreased tolerance to the cold
· Poor Circulation
· Low Stamina
· Low Self Esteem (due to low energy output)
· Aches and pains in the joints
· Muscle Weakness
· The need for excess amounts of sleep
· Abnormal amount of fears
· Lowered resistance to infection.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not stupidly self-diagnosing myself and have seen my GP on numerous occasions concerning every single one of the points listed above on-and-off for the past 18-months+. I have had every conceivable test, scan and examination, which have all come back as clear. There has been no conceivable reason why a ‘youngish’ guy of good health would be suffering from the aforementioned symptoms. Not once during the entire process was I ever asked how much caffeine I was consuming and at what frequency, so I never thought it could be linked. Up until the day I decided to stop my caffeine intake I didn’t even know that this condition existed?
The adrenal glands are located at the top of the kidneys and are responsible for releasing both adrenaline and cortex (a stress hormone) into the blood stream. The affect of this is that they trigger the body to enter ‘fight or flight’ mode. This heightens the body’s senses and makes all the processes acute so that the person can adequately protect themselves from stressful situations: the heart will beat faster, blood flow will increase, their will be a heightened level of awareness, energy and a desire to affectively survive. Once the stressful situation ends, the bodily responses/senses will slow down until they return to normal. During this time, the individual may suffer from a short bout of fatigue but nothing too crippling. When an individual takes caffeine (by drinking coffee, tea or caffeinated drinks) then this chemically stimulates the adrenal glands to produce these stress hormones to give the so-called ‘caffeine-buzz’, ultimately causing your body to enter ‘fight or flight’ mode. This, of course, has its uses whether it is working towards a last-minute deadline, increased productivity after not sleeping too well the night before or aiding in exercise to name a few. As long as it is used sparingly then I cannot see a problem. In fact, some research has concluded that caffeine in small doses can be good for you potentially protecting yourself from diabetes type II for example. The problem arises when that odd one-cup of coffee or energy drink turns into two, three or even ten. Have you ever had a caffeinated product that has produced the well documented ‘high’ to only end-up having a mid-afternoon crash? How do you deal with this? Have another caffeinated product? It is a vicious circle. Every time you drink or eat something that contains caffeine your adrenal glands are producing stress hormones and preparing your body for a stressful situation. If all you do is sit at a desk then your body has no way to expel that extra energy and your ‘crash’ is going to be worse. By living like this, the body is going to be riding a rollercoaster of producing stress hormones, crashing, producing stress hormones, crashing… etc…
The short story is that if you frequently rely on caffeine in order to get through the day, like I did, then you are in danger of burning out your adrenal glands causing some or all of the symptoms that are listed above. Take it from me; this is a miserable existence especially when your GP is telling you that he can’t find anything causing the symptoms. When you break down how caffeine affects your body then it is plainly obvious that overusing this substance (like many others) is going to have a negative affect on your life. The problem is, caffeine is so engraved into our culture that we refuse to admit that we are addicted because who doesn’t enjoy a ‘relaxing’ coffee whilst watching the World go by?
Since the day that I decided that I would ‘kick the bean’ habit I kept a short diary of how I was progressing. I wanted to see if the accounts that litter the Internet regarding ‘life after the bean’ are true including an abundance of energy with an overall sense of calmness sometimes as little as two weeks after the last drop of caffeine was consumed. Only time will tell…
Day 1 (Friday)
The general feeling today was that of what I had known as normality for the past 18-months+. I have been craving coffee all day and have been struggling to clench my thirst. However, managed to do a full day at work none-the-less.
Day 2 (Saturday)
On waking early in the morning I was experiencing the strangest headache I have ever experienced. Not being one who is prone to headaches, being able to count on one hand how many I have had in my life, I was in a world of new experiences. This felt like someone had massively over tightened a belt around my head: the pressure was almost unbearable. Coupled with a pounding that felt like a heart beat in my brain was scary to say the least. I had blurred vision and an inability to keep my eyes open for longer than a couple of minutes at a time. I mustn’t have moved from my settee for 20 hours.
Day 3/4 (Sunday/Monday)
Same as Saturday but added to the mix were intense muscle cramps particularly abdominals and below. It felt as though all my nerve endings were on fire. If I moved I was in excruciating pain and if I sat still I was in excruciating pain to the point where I was in tears. Nothing would alleviate the pain. I tried everything from hot baths to Nurofen, nothing would subside the pain. I couldn’t sleep, I struggled to eat, and all I could do was drink lots of water. Life was unbearable. During this time, I knew I could end all this pain by drinking a nice frothy coffee. I actually found the opposite was happening though: I despised the stuff for making me feel this way. Even if I had been presented coffee in a gold-crested beaker I would have just refused it. I am well into the withdrawal phase now and there was going to be nothing stopping me from powering through to the end (whenever this may be). If only half the accounts posted on the Internet were true, they all say that it is worth it in the end. With that in mind I power through to Tuesday.
Day 5-7 (Tuesday – Thursday)
Finally had a good (but broken) night sleep at the end of Day 4. The sleep was broken by the still massive discomfort in my leg muscles. It wasn’t until Day 6 that these began to subside to a manageable ache. I was even able to venture into work and complete a full day. I possibly wasn’t the best person to have around: withdrawn, in constant pain, irritable and generally moody. However, I kept telling myself it was only for the greater good.
Day 8-10 (Friday – Sunday)
Day 8 marked a turning point. The headache had completely dissipated, the muscle burning had also disappeared and I started feeling human again. The only thing that seemed to be sticking around is the tiredness. Saying this, it feels different. It doesn’t feel like the all-out exhaustion that I felt when I was drinking coffee. Maybe I am turning a corner. I actually feel an air or calmness and barely any irritability around my own persona. It feels strange. I sat on a packed inner city train today (Day 10) in rush hour and felt surprisingly calm. The biggest improvement I have noticed is in regards to my hands and feet. As far as I can remember I have always suffered from particularly cold extremities. From Day 5, they have both been warm even though the ambient temperature has been knocking onto freezing. This is a surprise result and one that makes me instantly happy.
This brings me up to today (Day 11); I am far from fully recovered (whatever this may be) and feel that now the main withdrawal symptoms are over my body needs to re-configure itself to life without the ‘bean’. I must also try and change my behaviour so I don’t fall down the same slippery slope again. Now that I am aware of how horrendous the withdrawal symptoms are, I am not going to go back lightly. It would be nice to get to the point where I can drink a coffee every now and then as part of a social gathering but I feel that this is a long way into the future. At the moment I am going to try and live my life away from caffeine completely.
I hope that this post will go some way to reassure others who maybe suffering the same horrendous symptoms that they will not last forever. And, to those who are gripped by caffeine addiction that there is a way out but it is not an easy path to take. It was a lot of pain for me. Needless to say it may not be as painful for you. I have pretty much been drinking coffee constantly since I was quite young. Already, in this relatively short period of time, I have seen some of the symptoms that are associated with adrenal exhaustion subside and am hopeful that with time the rest will follow the same suit.
This has been a personal struggle and for me it is turning out that caffeine has been my silent nemesis. You should always consult your GP and get tested for all possible issues that are causing you anguish. If they find nothing then, like me, it could be caffeine addiction.