16 January 2009

Caffeine is Addictive Just Like Nicotine

Caffeine is Addictive Just Like NicotineShould you kick the caffeine habit? Myriad of people cannot live without their daily cup of coffee, and that can be a problem. Caffeine is their favourite legal drug. Maybe you have to cut it out for health reasons. Maybe you just want to cut back because the time and expense involved in securing your daily fix has become too much.

Researchers are beginning to assemble a body of knowledge on kicking the caffeine habit. Caffeine is where tobacco was 20 years ago; it used to be that doctors told smokers, 'Just quit.' Now there's a growing appreciation that it takes a little more than 'just do it' to quit smoking. Here is the understanding that caffeine is addiction, too.

About 68 percent of Americans said they were hooked on coffee. Not everybody agrees that caffeine is addictive in the same way as nicotine, for example, but it is clear that cutting out caffeine can produce withdrawal symptoms. If you have tried to quit caffeine, and failed, you are not alone. Having worked with caffeine addicts, researchers are able to offer some advice for getting the caffeine monkey off your back.

- Keep a diary. Track how much caffeine you ingest every day for one or two weeks to determine your baseline intake. Do not overlook tea, sodas, chocolate and medications that contain caffeine. Products made with guarana, mate or kola nut also likely contain caffeine.

- Decide how much you want to cut. You will want to cut out caffeine entirely if you have a health issue that's clearly exacerbated by caffeine, like stomach problems, fibrocystic breast disease, some heart problems or irritable bladder. Pregnant women should avoid caffeine, too. However, if you are not in those categories, you may choose just to cut back enough to reduce your dependence so that you can function without your requisite cup of coffee. In that case, try reducing your intake level to under 100 milligrams per day.

- Count milligrams, not cups. Caffeine content varies widely. A typical 6-ounce cup of coffee contains 75 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, but a big 16-ounce cup of Starbucks' drip may contain as much as 400 milligrams. Remember to take into account serving sizes and the number of servings.

- Avoid going cold turkey. Cutting out caffeine suddenly can be very unpleasant, and you might relapse if it is too painful. The best thing you can do is not to stop abruptly. Cutting back gradually seems to stave off the symptoms associated with caffeine withdrawal, and that should increase your chances of success. Cut your caffeine intake by about 10-25 percent off your baseline every few days. If you start to experience withdrawal symptoms, taper even more gradually.

- Start by cutting out the last cup of coffee or can of cola you drink during the day. Caffeine takes up to six hours to get out of your system, and it can affect your sleep. If you take enough caffeine, it can interfere with "slow-wave" sleep, the phase of sleep that is most restorative. Even if you go to sleep after ingesting caffeine, the quality of sleep may not be as good, so, if you cut the day's last cup of coffee first, you will probably sleep better and feel less fatigued and presumably more able to stick with your program.

- Use behavior modification. The same techniques that help with quitting smoking or cutting calories can help in cutting caffeine – such as identifying barriers to change; enlisting social support in the form of a caffeine-cutting buddy or an encouraging friend; or rewarding yourself for achieving success milestones.

- Take it easy. Caffeine addicts should quit or cut back to start during a time when they are not under a lot of stress. The withdrawal process is not painless, but it is temporary. Individuals metabolize caffeine differently, so your tolerance of caffeine and your reaction to caffeine withdrawal could vary widely. It can even change as you age. So, listen to your body and tailor your quitting caffeine program accordingly.