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When working long hours or trying to get through a tough workout, caffeine is often the quickest and most accessible way in which to get a much-needed pick-me-up. And coupled with America’s love of coffee, tea, and soda, the stimulant can sometimes be difficult to avoid. But, is it possible to suffer from a caffeine addiction? The answer is “yes.”
Moderate amounts of caffeine are considered safe for healthy adults. In fact, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation, consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. Two cups of coffee a day—a quantity that contains about 250mg of caffeine—is considered moderate consumption, according to the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee and Health, while anything over 1,000 mg (equal to 10 cups of coffee) is considered dangerous. Pregnant women and those with a history of heart attack or high blood pressure in particular are strongly advised to avoid caffeine.
If you don’t regularly consume caffeine, you’d probably notice its effects immediately. You might feel jittery, nervous, and very alert due to increased respiration and heartbeat, pupil dilation, release of sugar into the bloodstream, and blood vessel constriction. But if you’ve been drinking five cups of strong coffee every day for 10 years, you may not even notice the effects it’s having on your overall health. So how do you know if you have a caffeine addiction?
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The Signs of Caffeine Addiction and Withdrawal
One way to determine whether you’re suffering from a caffeine addiction is to stop consuming it entirely. Because of caffeine’s effect on the nervous system, your body will react almost immediately to its absence. So, if you quit cold turkey and start to experience the following symptoms for a day or more, then you’re most likely addicted to caffeine:
Aside from the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, consuming large amounts of caffeine in one day can also cause:
- Muscle tremors
- A fast heartbeat
- Stomach pain
- Migraine headaches
- Frequent urination
According to a recent study, caffeine can even alter your circadian clock, which can make it difficult for you to fall asleep at your normal time. It’s also known to cause serious cardiovascular events and even cardiac arrest, particularly when consumed in large amounts of energy drinks.
Surprising Sources of Caffeine
While coffee, tea, cola, and energy drinks are obvious sources of caffeine, you may be surprised that caffeine can also be found in the following foods and beverages:
- Chocolate. Caffeine is naturally found in cocoa beans and the darker the chocolate is, the more caffeine it contains. A Hershey’s Special Dark candy bar, for example, contains 31 milligrams of caffeine, which according to Sleep.org is equivalent to a can of cola. Also, beware of other foods containing cocoa, such as ice cream, frozen yogurt, pudding, breakfast cereals, and hot chocolate mixes.
- Ice cream and frozen yogurt. Not only do you have to beware chocolate-flavored ice cream and frozen yogurt, don’t forget coffee-flavored desserts too. Any ice cream flavor that has the words “java” or “mocha” in its name usually contains coffee.
- Over-the-counter medications. Caffeine is medically recognized as a diuretic and research shows that it can help aspirin and acetaminophen work better to relieve headaches. Therefore, significant amounts can be found in over-the-counter medications for PMS (Midol) and migraines (Excedrin), so read labels carefully.
- Protein bars. While protein bars usually contain a variety of nuts and fruits to keep you energized during a workout, a few brands take it up a notch by adding caffeine. Brands including Clif, NuGo, MusclePharm, and Probar are known for adding an extra “buzz” to their protein bars.
- Decaffeinated coffee. Coffee labeled as “decaffeinated” can be slightly misleading because the FDA requires that companies remove only 97 percent of caffeine from beans labeled as “decaffeinated.” That means your cup of decaf could contain as much as 32mg of caffeine.
- Non-cola sodas. Colas are known to contain high amounts of caffeine, but they’re not the only sodas that can give you an energy boost. Fruit-flavored sodas including Sunkist, Mountain Dew, and Surge all contain significant amounts of caffeine. In fact, a 16-ounce can of Surge contains a whopping 69mg of caffeine.
How to Quit Your Caffeine Addiction
As with any bad habit, there are generally two ways that you can attempt to quit a caffeine addiction. Both choices have their pros and cons.
As mentioned earlier, quitting caffeine cold-turkey can come with some negative side effects lasting as long as seven to 10 days. But depending on your willingness to abstain for good, quitting caffeine entirely can either curb your addiction quickly or send you running to the coffeemaker if those headaches become unbearable.
If you’re looking for a less painful and tempting approach, you can try weaning yourself off caffeine by cutting back on certain foods or beverages a little bit at a time. For example, instead of reaching for three cups of coffee a day, try cutting it down to two cups per day for a week, and then reduce your intake again by another cup the following week. You can also try combining one-half cup of regular coffee and one-half cup of decaffeinated coffee to get a reduced amount of caffeine into your system.
If you’re taking OTC medications for PMS or migraines, talk to your doctor about alternative treatments that don’t contain caffeine. You can also reduce your cola intake or try alternating it with caffeine-free sodas, juices, and best of all, water. The weaning process tends to take longer than quitting cold turkey, but you can reduce the severity of any caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
This article was originally published in 2017. It has since been updated.