Coffee. That thing you take a date out for when you don’t want to spend any real money. It also makes people say things like – “don’t even talk to me before my morning coffee” and “I literally can’t function without a coffee,” generally said in a hyperbolic, office banter sort of way. But take those same very common quotes and swap out ‘coffee’ with ‘heroin,’ and all of sudden you have an intervention to plan. Coffee has become a staple of modern society, particular here in Melbourne, the coffee snob capital of the world. 46% percent of Australians drink coffee daily. Back in 2012, Australian’s purchased 2.1 billion cups of coffee over the course of the year – and that number is on the rise.
Like any substance dependance, once you realise you’re actually dependant, it’s often too late to become un-dependant. It is important to note that there is a difference between addiction and dependance – what many coffee drinkers experience with their caffeinated beverage is a dependance, not an addiction. Addiction involves an inability to stop using a substance, and having that inability effect one’s day to day life. Dependance involves the body requiring a substance to feel normal. Addiction is often accompanied by dependance, but dependance is not necessarily accompanied by addiction. The journal Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience, notes that “long-term caffeine use can lead to mild physical dependence – a withdrawal syndrome characterized by drowsiness, irritability, and headache typically lasts no longer than a day. True compulsive use of caffeine has not been documented.” Studies have shown that if someone ingests 100 mg of coffee a day, the equivalent of about a cup of coffee, they can acquire a physical dependance that triggers things like muscle pain and stiffness, lethargy, nausea, and a depressed mood. By constantly consuming coffee, your body begins to rely on that caffeine to feel awake – and so, as a result, you feel more tired more often. Sound familiar? It’s a vicious cycle really – you feel tired, so you have a cup of coffee. Because of the coffee, you make yourself more tired, so you have another cup, and on and on it goes.
Taking a step back, it is of relevance to look at what coffee actually does to us in the first place. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in the human brain from receiving adenosine, the neurotransmitter that causes us to experience fatigue. Caffeine serves to prevent your brain from receiving adenosine, but it doesn’t actually halt production of the chemical within your body. As a result, once the caffeine wears off, you receive a rush of built up adenosine that in turn makes you sleepy. The caffeine in your cup of coffee itself isn’t what is making you tired – it’s the rush of adenosine that the coffee holds off, which comes crashing down on you later. By continuing to expose your body to caffeine every day, you reduce the effects of the beverage by increasing your tolerance, while also causing your body to be far more sensitive to the effects of adenosine. Studies have determined that complete caffeine tolerance develops after having about 3 cups a day for just 18 days.
Coffee is a staple of modern Australian culture. It’s also pretty bloody delicious, and that minor kick it offers can really help push you through a long day. But maybe next time you’re feeling irritable, tired, sore, or experiencing a headache, stop and think – how much coffee have I had in the last few days? Every now and then a good detox from the substance could help ease a lot of those symptoms. We have a casual, crippling coffee addiction in modern Australia – we really oughta cut back. One less strong soy latte a day won’t kill you. Too many of them might.