I didn’t want to be a junkie when I grew up. Still I reached for the Diet Coke and pot of coffee.
by Scott Daniel // October 20, 2010
That was no headache. A headache is a bearable nuisance, triggered by something stressful or irritating, like an SEC football fan or screaming children at your neighborhood Friendly’s. No, it was not like that at all. It was more an amalgamation of nausea, drowsiness and what I imagine surface zero of a fireworks explosion must feel like. It occurred in, around and throughout every lobe of my brain, pulsing rhythmically, ebbing and flowing like the tides, minus the peace and serenity. I could have ended it all right there. Just one pull of the stay-tab. Just one click and release. Just one shot of that sweet, aspartame-laden, carcinogenic fizz, and I could have returned momentarily to stasis. But I am not tempted so easily. Not this time. The withdrawal symptoms may occasionally border on the unbearable, but I will re-claim my Diet Coke-addled brain. It has been 96 hours since my last hit of caffeine.
Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I give you science. A number of very smart people in white lab coats and/or bow ties have recognized that caffeine withdrawal symptoms are occasionally so severe as to merit a proposed diagnosis in the DSM-IV. Caffeine addicts, like myself, literally can’t function without it. Hence, we must choose between lethargy and hyperactivity, between Stephen Wright and Richard Simmons.
Let me describe what my caffeine experience has been like. I have eschewed water for soda since at least middle school. Britney Spears must have had some influence on me. I never really noticed the effect that all that caffeine had on my nervous system until law school, when the combination of caffeine and stress-induced anxiety formed a lethal tag-team duo that finally brought me to my knees. I relied upon a pot of coffee or a six-pack of Diet Coke to give me the jolt of energy I needed to make it through class, crank out a brief or plow through my Evidence casebook.
Drink, perform, crash. Drink, perform, crash. This vicious cycle continued until my recent decision to just say no. I’ll give you a glimpse into my average day with accompanying soundtrack:
- Early morning. Wake up in a literal brain fog. 75% chance of correctly naming the month. (“Sex and Candy”, Marcy Playground).
- Mid-morning. Consume copious amounts of caffeine in either cola or coffee form. Begin to notice that I’m wearing a T-shirt as pants. (“More Than a Feeling”, Boston).
- Mid-day. Flying high, ideas shooting through my brain like lightning, so over-confident that I don’t notice that people are laughing at the fact that I am still wearing a T-shirt as pants. (“You Give Love a Bad Name”, Bon Jovi).
- Around 2:30. I become aware of my T-shirt pants as I come down from the caffeine high. I experience mild emotional turbulence that probably mimics bipolar disorder (“Bohemian Rhapsody”, Queen).
- Late afternoon. I decide to take a melancholic nap. Although I am now ashamed of my T-shirt pants, I give up on any hope of redeeming myself from the embarrassment. (“Dust in the Wind”, Kansas).
- Early evening. I have more caffeine with dinner and start to dream about recovering my lost day. I decide to stick with the Kansas theme. (“Carry On Wayward Son”, Kansas).
- Late evening. My mind is busy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t productive. I could either be finishing up a project or doing something mindless like skimming Facebook – or blogging. (“Through the Fire and Flames”, Dragonforce).
- Midnight or later. It all must end sooner or later. (No song. Just imagine what a plane crash or sonic pulse weapon might sound like).
You know this cycle is exhausting if you’ve experienced it, and I have learned it happens because caffeine interferes with our brain’s absorption of a chemical called adenosine or, as I call it, “Nature’s NyQuil”. Caffeine interrupts the normal balance of our body’s home-brewed Sleepytime Tea and primes the adrenaline pump. This feels good for a while. We are focused and full of energy. We can accomplish any task, write any paper, dominate any sales meeting. Then, the inevitable crash. Our hearts race. Anxiety and tension builds. We crash. The only way to recover from the crash is to get back on the cycle and keep staving off the withdrawal symptoms…or to suck it up and deal with the short-term pain for a long-term gain.
I’m inviting you to join me in getting off the cycle.
Upwards of 90% of you use caffeine on a regular basis, averaging 280 mg of the stuff per day. That’s the equivalent of two cups of strong coffee or four 12-oz. cans of soda. When you consider that it only takes 30 mg to noticeably alter a person’s mood and only 100 mg per day to trigger dependence, we have to face the facts. We are a nation of legal drug addicts. Granted, some people benefit from moderate amounts of caffeine without any side effects or signs of dependence. If you’re like me, however, and you over-rely on caffeine to power your day, you are a legal drug addict.
You can change, though. Start by replacing that Diet Coke with a glass of water.
Sources: CBS News, The National Ledger, Wikipedia, Discovery Health, CNN Health. Photo is public domain.