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Maybe Coffee Needs a Dear John Letter

At a restaurant with two of my kids recently, I hadn't had anything with caffeine for nearly three weeks, but was tired and felt like having a large Diet Coke. As I was finishing it, my son Cameron asked me whether I was drinking something with caffeine. I replied that I was and asked him how he knew. He pointed at my hands. They weren't exactly shaking like Gene Wilder's hand in Blazing Saddles -- "Steady as a rock." "Yeah, but I shoot with this hand." -- but they were close.

Knowing that caffeine can have that effect on me, I don't use it often. At the same time, if I'm dragging and desperately need to wake up quickly, it's good to know that caffeine will do so, provided I haven't had any recently. So I avoid caffeine not only because I don't like its effects, but also because avoiding it is the only way to ensure dramatic effects when I do use it.

Writing the previous entry, I looked up caffeine on the Web and found the following enlightening passage in the How Stuff Works entry for caffeine:

Caffeine is an addictive drug. Among its many actions, it operates using the same mechanisms that amphetamines, cocaine and heroin use to stimulate the brain. On a spectrum, caffeine's effects are more mild than amphetamines, cocaine and heroin, but it is manipulating the same channels and that is one of the things that gives caffeine its addictive qualities. If you feel like you cannot function without it and must consume it every day, then you are addicted to caffeine.
I hadn't known that caffeine was an addictive drug -- in the true physiological sense of the word, not the debased version so popular these days -- until reading that. The article goes on:
The half-life of caffeine in your body is about 6 hours. That means that if you consume a big cup of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine in it at 3:00 PM, then by 9:00 PM about 100 mg of that caffeine is still in your system. You may be able to fall asleep, but your body probably will miss out on the benefits of deep sleep. That deficit adds up fast. The next day you feel worse, so you need caffeine as soon as you get out of bed. The cycle continues day after day.

This is why 90% of Americans consume caffeine every day. Once you get in the cycle, you have to keep taking the drug. Even worse, if you try to stop taking caffeine, you get very tired and depressed and you get a terrible, splitting headache as blood vessels in the brain dilate. These negative effects force you to run back to caffeine even if you want to stop.

The headaches... I remember them from my Diet Coke days (I'm now a Caffeine-Free Diet Coke drinker).

The more I read, the more I think maybe I should cut back my caffeine use even more -- perhaps all the way down to zero.

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