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Overcoming Caffeine Addiction
Take Control of Your Caffeine Consumption
Caffeine is awesome, I enjoy it and it is an extremely useful tool.
The last word in that sentence is key—it’s a tool.
For many people caffeine—namely coffee—is far from a tool, but something we use to either compensate for poor sleep, or because they have become dependent on the chemical.
When used correctly, caffeine is a superpower. It makes you more productive, focused, and for me, much more creative (they say Sir Isaac Newton was so creative because of his MASSIVE coffee intake).
The issue with coffee and caffeine in general is our body not only creates a tolerance rather quickly, that it becomes a dependence—you are simply tired and have lower mental acuity when you don’t have caffeine.
A major issue that has come up in recent years is the emergence of “Bang” energy drinks and other highly caffeinated, zero calorie beverages.
The issue is that instead of 80-100mg like a standard 8oz cup of coffee, these energy drinks have 300mg of caffeine, so it’s like slamming 3 cups coffee in one sitting.
It doesn’t help that these taste great, have zero calories, and are sold nearly everywhere anything is sold—and to make matters worse, they work, exceptionally well.
With the introductions of these in recent years (it used to just be Monster Energy Drinks with half the amount of caffeine, 150mg), I have personally seen caffeine dependence get much worse in people I know.
The goal of this article is to help us use caffeine the way it was intended—as a tool for energy and brain power, not as something that we can’t even get anything done unless we’ve had a few cups of coffee.
We are going to go over:
How Caffeine Works (Skip if science bores you)
How To Quit + How To Not Lose A Step (Supplement Stack)
How To Reintroduce Caffeine As A Tool & Manage Intake Responsibly
Caffeine - How It Works
Caffeine is actually very interesting in how it works. It works in a way you actually wouldn’t think—it actually mimics a molecule that makes us calm and tired.
Caffeine is similar to adenosine in its molecular shape. Adenosine calms cognitive activity, dilates blood vessels and inhibits relaxation that leads us to sleep.
Because caffeine is shaped like adenosine, the two compete to bind to receptors in the brain.
Caffeine prevents adenine from functioning properly. This is because caffeine does the opposite of what adenine does—makes nerve cells fire faster, constricts blood vessels and causes wakefulness and alertness.
When you consume caffeine, it competes for these receptors the A1 (promotes relaxation and sleepiness) and the A2A receptor, the latter one is rather interesting.
The A2A receptor interacts with our neurotransmitters—namely dopamine—which is why you can feel more motivated and better moods when you consume caffeine.
So not only is it binding to the A1 receptor that wakes you up and makes you feel energized, it’s also releasing dopamine which is why we’re more productive after drinking our cup of coffee.
Caffeine actually peaks around 2 hours after intake and reaches its half life around 3-10 hours (tolerance and genetic dependent).
The range on this is important to note because if you metabolize caffeine slowly, a cup of coffee at 2pm can still be active in your body at midnight.
Typically, by late afternoon/early evening, the caffeine has been metabolized and adenosine begins to bind back to the A1 receptor—this is what causes us to “crash” and makes us sleepy.
This places the importance of proper sleep, as adenosine increases the less sleep we get, which makes us more tired during the day—thus increasing our “need” for caffeine.
Tolerance becomes our main issue. Caffeine slowly becomes less and less effective and a higher dose is actually not beneficial—that’s not how caffeine works in the body.
Tolerance actually happens much quicker than you think—days not weeks or months.
This is why consuming caffeine everyday greatly lessens it’s positive effects (think how much a cup of coffee use to wake you up compared to weeks later if you consume everyday) and eventually you get nearly 0 effect and simply need it to maintain any energy levels.
This is where dependence enters the conversation.
There is not set time this takes—completely dependent on the individual—however, when you notice caffeine is what you need just to form a coherent thought and you need it to simply stay away—you are addicted and physically dependent.
Since caffeine is so widely used and available, it does not get the respect it deserves as a compound. Many are addicted and we should call it and treat it as just that—an addiction.
Dependence typically lasts 2-10 days and even then it can take months to return your brain back to normal functioning/tolerance.
30 days is a good rule of thumb for removing caffeine and reintroducing it, responsibly, if you so choose.
How To Quit Caffeine Smoothly
The obvious answer is simply: Just quit.
However, some of us have responsibilities and need to keep performance high, so needing to take 3-4 naps a day and not having a functional brain is not going to help anyone.
It’s the 21st century and we are all seemingly intelligent people—there are smarter ways to go about this.
We have a few methods to go about this:
We can go cold turkey, which will be a fast way to stop caffeine consumption, but will slow us down a step.
For a week or so we could experience headaches (typically only the first 72 hours), we will be much more tired and feel the need to nap throughout the day, and our motivation can take a big hit.
Within 1-2 weeks you will be feeling largely back to normal, maybe a step or two off.
I suggest front loading work or taking a few days off because you are more than likely going to be worthless during this time. A “staycation” can be beneficial here.
I actually don’t suggest this method.
We can taper, meaning we slowly decrease our total consumption overtime.
I have had good success with this by reducing tolerance while being able to maintain some of the benefits of caffeine without the terrible withdrawal symptoms that can come with going cold turkey.
We can do this a few ways.
We can decrease the frequency of caffeine. If having coffee 3 times a day, we can go down to 2 times, then over time down to 1 time, then eventually every other day until the point we need none.
We can decrease the total amount during the day. If having 400mg a day, we can drop to 300mg, then down to 200mg and 100mg over the course of a couple weeks.
Personally, a do a combination of both. I will decrease my frequency first, and only have caffeine before I “need” it (more complex work or the gym).
Then as I adjust to the frequency, I will also lower the amount per dose, so instead of 300mg before the gym and 100mg before work, I’ll have 150mg before the gym and then 100mg before challenging work.
Then as that goes on, I will use less caffeine, say 200mg before work and none before the gym or any other time.
Rest days come in clutch here, as on rest days I’ll have 100mg, a single cup of coffee, before work and none throughout the rest of the day.
Eventually this becomes a very small amount before the gym and none on rest days, then none at any point during the day/before gym.
It will typically take me about 3-4 weeks to completely cut consumption and I will stay off for 21-30 days.
Note: this is what I have done in the past when caffeine becomes an issue, now I do it a different way as I’ll go over in the “How To Reintroduce Caffeine As A Tool & Manage Intake Responsibly” section.
But before this, I actually have my preferred method when cutting caffeine if it’s become an issue (I’m human, this happens once every blue moon).
This is the “Caffeine Reset Stack”, which involves some natural supplements to allow me to completely quit caffeine with having no drawbacks—energy, focus, and motivation remain high, still have an “edge”.
We have a few natural supplements we can take that will help us achieve this “best of both worlds” scenario by acting as a non-stimulant nootropic stack:
1-2g L-Tyrosine - L-Tyrosine is an amino acid that is the precursor to dopamine, by taking this we can get the added benefit of increased dopamine production and keep us motivated and focused.
5-10g Lion’s Mane - Lion’s Mane is a mushroom that boosts cognitive performance and can help keep us energized and increase our brain power (also is great for general brain health).
2-3g EPA - EPA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that can boost our mental performance and can even alleviate ADD/ADHD symptoms.
5g Creatine - Creatine (which I’ve written all about here) is not only for our muscle, it’s great for our brain. Creatine increases the energy conversion in our brain and promotes better cognitive activity.
This stack is highly effective, cost effective, and very natural/safe for you to take, and will successfully help you come off caffeine without missing a step mentally.
How To Reintroduce Caffeine As A Tool & Manage Intake Responsibly
If we do decide to use caffeine again—which I will always do—we have to treat the drug (yes caffeine is a drug) with respect.
If you have successfully come off and allowed your brain to “reset”—which I suggest 30-60 days off—you will notice that caffeine is highly effective again.
We want to keep it that way.
There are a few strategies we can use to make this happen, but all depend on your self-control and awareness of not letting caffeine become a habit again.
The main thing we want to focus on is not using caffeine for no reason, use it with intent. You do not need caffeine before doing a bunch of nothing. Reserve it for workouts, deep work, etc.
We do not want to use it frequently, and my suggestion is a sort of “cycle”:
No more than 3 days on without a 24 hour break.
Limit to 400mg maximum a day.
No more than twice maximum a day, only once on a rest day (if any).
Every 4 weeks, take 1 week completely off.
Twice a year, take 21 days completely off.
If you can adhere to this or something similar, you will retain the benefits of caffeine and not allow it to become an issue.
If you notice the effects of caffeine aren’t as strong, it’s a sign to cut back consumption and take 2-3 days off caffeine again.
Like I’ve said, caffeine is awesome when used responsibly, and we want to maintain these benefits.
Again, it can be either a tool, or it can run our lives.
Putting It All Together
Caffeine is one of the most widely abused substances on Earth. It can either be your best friend, or your worst nightmare.
If you have an issue with it, you need to make a plan to come off and allow your body and mind time to reset and restore a homeostasis.
Quitting does not have to be painful, and we have methods that can make this as painless as possible.
Once we have control of this habit, we can allow ourselves to reintroduce caffeine and use it as a tool, or completely stay off it forever.
At the end of the day, we do not “need” caffeine, and it should only add to your life, not take away from it.
Take this serious, because it can really affect your life in very negative ways if you can’t get a handle on it.
This is not Legal, Medical, or Financial advice. Please consult a medical professional before starting any workout program, diet plan, or supplement protocol. These are opinions from a Cartoon Ox.