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Is caffeine addictive?

Ask almost on anyone on the street if they drink 2 or 3 coffees a day and you’ll find a lot of people saying yes. For example, 80% of Americans take caffeine daily. 

Ask them if they’re addicted to caffeine and they’ll probably say no.

Ask them to try and stop drinking coffee cold turkey the next day and they’ll probably mutter some excuses and walk off quickly.

In short, people rationalise in their mind that they’re in control and like the taste and habit of drinking coffee as well as the break it gives them from the hum drum drama of every day life. You don’t see people quitting coffee regularly or easily.

Coffee – and caffeine – surrounds us.

We see it in the kitchen, on the way to work, on the bus, on our social media, in the office canteen and then on the way home.

And it’s acceptable to drink coffee.

So, what does science say about caffeine and its habit forming or addictive qualities?

Well, there has been quite a lot of scientific study on the subject with the following conclusions:

  • Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine can be intense including headache, fatigue, mood changes, muscle pain and nausea, as well as cravings for caffeine. On the face of it, it would appear to have addictive qualities because it is painful and unpleasant to give up.
  • Roland Griffiths of the John Hopkins Bayview Center concluded a study on caffeine with the following statement: “Although the phenomenon of caffeine withdrawal has been described previously, [our study] documents higher incidence of caffeine withdrawal, the [minimum] dose required for caffeine withdrawal is lower and the range of symptoms is higher than heretofore recognised”. Roland Griffiths later said “I don’t have any problem in saying that caffeine is a mildly addicting drug. I think that describes it.”
  • Other studies disagree. Dr Sally Satel of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, funded by the American Beverage Association, released a literature review in 2006 called “Is caffeine addictive?” The study’s conclusion was that, no, caffeine is not addictive, though it is ‘weakly reinforcing’ and that ‘the possible reinforcing effects of coffee may not be the caffeine per se, but rather the pleasurable aroma and taste of coffee as well as the social environment that accompanies coffee consumption”.

So, it really depends on which side of the fence you’re on.

Either way, it’s important to understand that that caffeine in coffee must be understood and respected. If you do want to cut down or cut our caffeine entirely, it would be worth thinking about gradually reducing your coffee consumption particularly if you’re a heavy caffeine user.

One way is to drink decaffeinated coffee, we recommend Swiss Water Decaf coffee, in two ways. Firstly, drink decaf in between caffeinated beverages to psychologically wean yourself off the real stuff.

Then, secondly, to blend, or in drug parlance, “cut” your caffeinated coffee with decaf coffee. So, for example, start off with e.g. ¾ caffeinated roast coffee, ¼ decaf coffee, moving on to 50-50 blend of half-caf, and so on.

As we have said in previous blog posts, the science on caffeine and caffeine withdrawal still needs a lot of work and we welcome further serious research into the subject.

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