Four years ago I was addicted to caffeine. Each morning I couldn’t just let my body wake up. So I consumed a strong cup of cold brew coffee every day, added some stimulants like modafinil, then started tackling the creative writing and brainstorming on my to-do list. It wasn’t sustainable: all the stimulants screwed up my immune system and gave me adrenal fatigue. Because of this, I then contracted warts on the bottom of my feet—which, as my doctor explained, my compromised immune system couldn’t fight off. Yikes.
Those weren’t the healthiest times. Fortunately, I’ve improved a lot. Chemically burning the warts off the bottom of my feet with beetle poison was enough pain to wake me up from my caffeine stupor.
But, in many ways, the caffeine addiction is still with me: I still occasionally fall into the cycle where I tell myself that I need caffeine (or other stimulants) so my business can be successful, so I can work long enough and hard enough, and so I can prove to my parents (both doctors!) that I’m successful and my bachelors degree in History wasn’t a total waste of time.
Ultimately, I discovered the underlying feelings associated with my caffeine addiction: it’s a symptom of my thinking that I’m not enough. And I don’t think I’m alone.
Do You Use Caffeine as a Crutch?
When I see colleagues and friends “crushing it” on social media or idolize success stories of entrepreneurs and “self-made millionaires,” these are all symptoms of feeling that I’m not enough. I have decided, with the help of the media and social conditioning, that being financially and professionally successful is a measure of worth. I measure my self-worth by my net worth.
From this place, I decide that I’m going to show the world, my friends, my family that I am enough. I do that through my work. And I do my work, no matter how I’m feeling, with caffeine.
There are different flavors of “not enough” and many struggle with their own version. 90% of Americans drink a cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage in the morning. For some people, caffeine becomes a crutch to get through a job they dislike. Others consume caffeine to prioritize their children and be the best possible parent. It doesn’t hurt that it helps stave off hunger and burns belly fat, right?
But our constant busyness, our missed sleep, and feeling behind turns into a lifestyle marred by addiction to caffeine.
It’s no wonder caffeine becomes an addiction. Caffeine provides a surge of energy to jump-start the day. Coffee boosts your mood and makes working feel easier. It seems harmless and helpful especially when shuttling kids to school, competing for a promotion, and trying to compete in what feels like a zero sum career game. It feels good and over time begins to taste good too. We crave the aroma, the flavor, and the effect coffee creates.
But there are downsides. Excessive caffeine exacerbates anxiety, gives us the jitters, and makes concentration harder. The more caffeine we drink, the less effect it has. To compensate, we drink more and more cups of coffee because we can’t function without it. Classic addiction behavior.
The biggest problem is that we live in a society that values productivity, innovation, and success over individual wellbeing. Abusing caffeine is often rewarded. One can prosper because of a caffeine addiction not in spite of it.
I’ve been there. To some degree, I’m still there. Perhaps you have had similar experiences or are currently consuming caffeine more often than you’d like. If you want to develop a better relationship with caffeine, you’re not alone.
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How I Manage Caffeine Addiction
I am an action-oriented person. If I identify a problem, my first response is to find a solution and do something to fix it. Recognizing an addiction with caffeine is no different. There are tactics, tools, and tricks to battle addiction, many of which I devised myself and included in this article. But managing a caffeine addiction, like any other, must address the underlying issues.
The feelings that “I’m not enough” or that “I’m not doing enough” are the underlying causes. For you it may be a different flavor or have a different voice, but identifying this feeling is the first step in managing addiction.
After awareness comes healing, which is a process that looks different for everyone. I have turned to ancient psychedelic medicines like ayahuasca (which is used to treat addiction to other drugs), I have done 10-day meditation retreats, and plenty of therapy sessions.
But managing a feeling of “not enough” and associated addiction to caffeine is an ongoing effort. Especially if you are anything like me and desire to use caffeine in moderation rather than quitting altogether. Given that 61% of Americans want to reduce, but not quit caffeine completely, it seems there are many like me.
Take Control of Caffeine
In my experience, a grounded, mindful relationship with anything (caffeine included) means using it in moderation, not quitting altogether. For some people and in certain circumstances, alcohol or heroin for instance, this may not be possible. But for caffeine, it is certainly possible to take control, use it in moderation, and value it as a tool not a crutch. This starts with a caffeine reset.
A caffeine reset is an intentional break from caffeine to reset how your body responds to the substance. By reseting your relationship to caffeine, it’s like lifting a fog from your brain. But this doesn’t come easy.
My girlfriend drinks only 1 cup of coffee per day and her recent caffeine reset created 5 days of unexplained headaches and tiredness. Other people who try to quit caffeine cold turkey experience fatigue, brain fog, or depression. If you currently face caffeine addiction and worry about the withdrawal effects, there are alternative (and better) methods to “cold-turkey”.
The first step is to begin a weaning phase where you reduce the dosage by increments of 25 – 50 mg per day until you arrive at 0 mg. To learn specifically how this might look for you, we have developed a quiz to assess your caffeine consumption so you know where to start.
This works well if you have a precise measurement. One of the benefits of our coconut matcha latte is that each scoop can carefully measure caffeine and slowly reduce your dose to prevent large-scale withdrawal effects. Once your caffeine dosage is at 0 mg, try to avoid caffeine for at least 10 – 14 days. This will allow your body find homeostasis (balance!) without the substance. I prefer to do this caffeine reset when I visit far away places with little mentally-demanding work going on (a family vacation, for example).
The phase of no caffeine might seem challenging, but there are alternatives to caffeine that can support you. In this replacement phase you might turn to traditional herbs, such as rhodiola rosea, medicinal mushrooms like lion’s mane, or even high-fat diets for mental energy. All of these can be tools to support your brain and cognitive performance while you are on a caffeine reset.
Once you re-introduce caffeine back into your life (the re-introduction phase), these alternatives and replacements can be part of Caffeine Cycling. This means using caffeine, but strategically taking days off to increase the efficacy, sustainability, and reduce the side effects. You may only need to use caffeine 2 – 4 times per week with these alternatives.
A final tactic to make caffeine sustainable after your reset is to use a smaller dosage. The most effective way to do this is to combine ingredients that pair well with caffeine in order to decrease the dosage (and the downsides) while maximizing the benefits. This is called Caffeine Synergy and there are numerous examples from nature.
Caffeine is found in many plants including matcha green tea. This specific variation of tea has an ingredient called L-theanine, which is a molecule that makes caffeine more potent and negates many of its side effects. This was the first nootropic (substance that improves cognitive performance) that I took and loved. Matcha green tea also has a molecule called ECGC, which is both stimulating and neuroprotective. This ingredient, which amplifies the natural caffeine in matcha, provides extra attention and focus without the side-effects of excessive coffee (like jitters and energy crashes). This is one reason we developed the coconut matcha latte with all of these ingredients.
The first time I paired coffee with L-theanine and EGCG, I was driving an old, beat-up Honda Civic through Austin, TX in the summer, with no air conditioning, windows rolled down, music blaring. The usual feeling of “caffeine anxiety” was gone. Instead, I was calm, focused, and centered. As soon as I got back to my small college campus apartment, I studied obscure British history for 3 hours straight. I was hooked and continue to experiment to this day.
A Conscious Morning Choice
I have found no quick fixes to quell my caffeine addiction. As with any addiction, it is a relationship where I must remain mindful at all times. Caffeine is a valuable tool that our ancestors have used for hundreds if not thousands of years. But the downsides of caffeine become clearer when we reach for coffee like a zombie on autopilot, rather than making it a conscious choice.
As a student of nootropics for the past 6 years, I have consistently found my readers, my friends, and my family experience greater wellbeing and performance by changing their relationship to caffeine. In my experience, cycling off caffeine throughout the week and pairing it with effective ingredients ensures my quality of life is high, anxiety is low, and the world gets the best version of me. I hope the same for you.