Caffeine Awareness Month and My Caffeine Addiction
National Caffeine Awareness Month
March is National Caffeine Awareness Month, a subject that divides not only sections of society, but also divides me in my own head!
As a sports commentator who is devoid of anything meaningful to say expounds, my relationship with caffeine (and my subsequent caffeine addiction) is a game of two halves.
Breaking the Cycle of Addiction
I love caffeine based beverages! (What else would someone with a caffeine addiction say!) Almost from the time I could speak I was drinking tea, one of the interesting pleasures of having English parents!
In our house tea was held up as an almost miracle elixir. Were you a little cold? Then a cup of tea was the perfect pick me up. Were you a little hot? Then tea would make you perspire, which in turn would cool you down. Little tired? Tea. Upset stomach? Weak tea. Upset? Strong Tea. And so it went.Tea was treated in my house like some people would treat a good scotch.
The pot had to be warmed, the tea stewed for the correct amount of time and when ready, poured through a fine mesh strainer to ensure the brew was not tainted by any rogue leaves.
Unbeknown to me, an 8oz cup of brewed tea has around 60mgs of caffeine in it and I was having at least 3 cups a day. As a 5yo.
As soon as I could escape the clutches of my parents, I did what every teenager does and rebelled against their drink of choice. I became a coffee drinker. Coffee was what people on television drank. Cool men and cooler women sipped on small shots of black liquid whilst smoking unfiltered cigarettes and discussing their latest sexy, dangerous, amusing encounters. (Who says subliminal product placement doesn't work?).
A strong cup of sweet brown liquid was how I started the day and how I got through the day. This continued through late nights studying and in to the work place. Free coffee meant 8 -10 cups a day.
I loved coffee and all its derivatives. Iced coffee milk, chocolate coated coffee beans and my favourite of all, in the heat of an Australian summer was iced coffee. At least at this stage I was aware of the caffeine in coffee, which I was consuming at the staggering rate of around a 1000mgs a day.
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I have a sweet tooth, my coffee had two sugars and my cola came in the fat size only. This combined with a sedentary office role meant that the pounds started to creep on. It was then, thanks to a diabetic father, that I discovered the dubious pleasure of TaB cola, a drink that captured me with its beautiful women in bikinis drinking it and lost me through its hideous saccharine flavour.
However I soon found diet coke and my consumption of caffeine, and the enjoyment of caffeine laced drinks soared.A can of TaB had 47mgs of caffeine and a can of diet coke had 45. I cut out the sugar in my coffee, but I was still drinking the 8-10 cups a day.I loved my caffeine drinks!
Are You a Caffeine Addict?
Work with other people in an air conditioned office environment and you will get sick. This is what happened to me after a few years of perfect attendance (I was young, naive and desperate to climb the corporate ladder..what can I say, it was the 80's and I also wore braces to hold up my trousers!), and as I lay in bed and drank water and little else I started to get headaches, awful, excruciating, skull crushing headaches .
I thought this was due to my illness and took lots of pain killers which took away the headaches, little knowing that it was the caffeine in the pills that was feeding my caffeine addiction and taking away my caffeine induced agony.
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My lifestyle continued on like this through the 90's until one day I decided that the browning of my teeth and the incessant heartburn that seemed to coincide with my 6th coffee needed to be changed. I stopped drinking coffee, diet coke and started reading product labels carefully to reduce my caffeine intake to zero.
Little was I aware of the withdrawal symptoms I was about to suffer.Firstly, in my office, the coffee machine was the 'water cooler', it was where you met to gossip, exchange ideas and generally waste time talking whilst you discussed the weekends sports results.
No coffee meant no machine time and no machine time meant social exclusion. You were also excluded from the coffee making roster, which meant you effectively became a social pariah. (A sad reflection on the office politics I am so happy to be away from!).But this was the least of my worries as on day two the headaches began, then the sleeplessness and lethargy.
My body was desperate for a caffeine hit, I sought out and took caffeine free pain killers like they were MM's, but the headache stayed, and stayed and stayed. Then on the 7th day I woke up and actually felt slightly human.And I stayed caffeine free, or as close to it as I could, for two years.
Almost Caffeine Free.
I say almost caffeine free as after the headaches had passed I missed the social interaction, so I would have a decaffeinated coffee once or twice a day, this small intake of coffee didn't trigger any heartburn and I checked my professionally cleaned teeth to make sure there was no build up of nasty brown gunk!
Little did I know that I was already building up a minor caffeine addiction. Decaf coffee has between 3-6mgs of caffeine in each cup and little did I think about the soft drink I was consuming. Mello Yello, Mountain Dew and even Sunkist Orange had between 40-50mgs of caffeine in them.
I had let my guard down and was on my way back to a caffeine addiction.
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Cometh the Millennium.
I was back in the grip of my caffeine addiction as the millennium bug failed to blow up the world and I really didn't care. I had discovered really good coffee, really good red wine and really good chocolate. No meal was complete without this combination. Add to that a good coffee based liqueur and I was like an alcoholic who had been given the job of chief beer tester and was being paid in whiskey.
Then I started to travel, serious, long term travel and my access to these treats as well as caffeine was restricted, mainly due to availability and budget restraints. So knowing what the consequences would be, I again gave up caffeine.
I can only describe the pain of a caffeine headache as thus, put your head in a vice and start to twist it shut. Twist the clamps tighter every hour and after a few days get someone to pound you just above the bridge of your nose every 10 minutes, all the while making sure that you don't sleep and you have small fits of anxiety.
After just over a week of agony, I was again free of caffeine.
During my caffeine free period I found that when I had a cup of coffee, two things happened;- I really enjoyed the coffee. The taste, the smell, everything about it.- I felt a real boost from the caffeine. Whoosh I was flying.It was amazing to me the difference in having a coffee for pleasure, rather than to feed my addiction.
It's also an empowering experience to awaken every day and not need to have an artificial start to the day and to feel naturally alive and awake.But then I returned to first world countries and their caffeine drinks. After some time in Japan, where every street corner has a vending machine that sells the most delicious small cans of coffee,
I was hooked. Again.
Till my next withdrawal attempt!
I am a caffeine addict. There you go, I've said it.I have discovered over the years that, when it comes to caffeine I am weak. I like to drink alcohol and I like to smoke a really good cigar, but if you took them away from me I would be ok.
This I know as I have gone months in Muslim countries without a drink and my last Cuban cigar was over 3 months ago, the absence of either not having the paralysing effect of a week without caffeine.
So what do I do about it now? I try to limit the amount I have. I drink only good coffee, I avoid diet soft drinks that have caffeine in them and I read the labels on all the food I buy.
I guess some people would compare this to an alcoholic that has a glass of wine with dinner and justifies it as the wine is a good vintage from a good maker.
But at the moment I try to do as my mum always said, everything in moderation. So again I will say it. I am a caffeine addict.
2013 - Back on the Caffeine Wagon
I was recently inspired by a couple in their 60's who are running around Australia at the rate of a marathon a day, to change over to a raw diet. The female of the couple survived a cancer death sentence and credits it to her raw food regime.
Whilst I won't claim raw foods cure cancer, the fact they are doing what they are at 60+ is inspiration enough for me. (See their journey here.) A raw diet means no coffee, no coffee means no caffeine and yet again, boy am I suffering. Headaches, nausea, tiredness and aching bones are just part of the side effects. But this time I am going to make it stick.
There will be no sneaky Starbucks or Redbulls. I'm not getting any younger and I want to be able to run around Australia when I am 60.
It's day 3, wish me luck.
Day 6 consisted of 7 aspirins.
I have now graduated to the extra strength ones...
Day 9 and the world in the morning is still fuzzy. I also can't decide if the cold symptoms I am feeling are caffeine related and that is part of the withdrawal experience... or if I have a small cold too!
I guess because I am a few years older my body is even less happy than in the past when I withdrew caffeine. Lets hope this time I remember the pain and it deters further addiction.
Day 11 and I have wavered on the raw diet (just couldn't resist a beer and pizza) but the caffeine calling is still being ignored. Still getting end of day headaches that require aspirin, but in the morning I almost feel unfuzzy (which surprisingly seems to be a valid word in the dictionary).
Day 22 The headaches have gone, the morning fuzziness is also now gone! The only downside I have is that my brain now naturally seems to run at a million miles an hour! Which creatively is fantastic, but annoying when you are laying in bed at 1am and there is no off switch.
The only time I miss coffee? When I get up in the morning after a evening of carousing and fun and when I eat a raw food brownie. Coffee and cake is ingrained in my psyche. However it's a small price to pay to be able to declare..I am not a caffeine addict!
The Game Goes into Overtime
Is Western Society a Caffeine Addict?
I am not alone in my addiction, according to the USFDA around 80% of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis, with most not knowing the amount they consume as the same FDA doesn't force manufacturers to list how much caffeine is contained within a product.
I am weak when it comes to my addiction, but it would appear that Western society is based around the majority consuming and being addicted to caffeine. So what I hear you ask?
Well the effects of consuming caffeine are as follows:
- Teeth Staining
If you are consuming over a 1000mgs a day like I was you may also suffer from irregular heartbeat, muscle twitching, depression and panic attacks.
Oh and just so you know, 5000mgs of caffeine can be fatal.
Death by Caffeine Addiction
Finally, here's a brief list of what you would need to consume in a day to commit suicide by caffeine! (Based on a 12 stone (78kgs) adult);
- 206 cups of instant coffee or
- 147 cans of Red Bull or
- 279 cups of black tea or
- 130 Starbucks bottled Frappuccino's or
- 1677 coffee beans
So now your really are aware and if you are reading this in March...
Happy National Caffeine Awareness Month!