Can Your Caffeine Addiction Kill You?
Think you can’t live without your morning coffee? Well, it looks like you can also die from it. A recent article outlines the coroner’s report that confirmed a woman found dead in bed, had died from caffeine poisoning.
While they didn’t say how much caffeine she had consumed, and pointed out this case was considered “highly unusual”, it’s not unheard of. There are 2,500 members in the Facebook group “caffeine toxicity death awareness support”.
The Caffeine Myth
It’s a myth that caffeine gives us “energy”. What we consider energy is more like an adrenaline rush. That feeling you get if someone jumps out from behind a corner and yells “boo”. Sure, that wakes you up and gets your heart pumping; but, not with energy. Instead, it is simulating your central nervous system with a “fight or flight” response. It will make you feel awake and alert for a while, then you’ll crash later in the day when you will repeat the process with more coffee to keep going. Do that for a long enough, and it WILL take a toll on your body. Too much caffeine can manifest in many ways:
- Increased anxiety, nervousness
- Inability to relax or restlessness
- Restless sleep
- Muscle twitches
- Digestive issues
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- and more
How much is too much?
So, just how much can you reasonably consume? No one is going to like this answer: it depends. The FDA has set a maximum safe limit at 400mg per day. But our ability to tolerate caffeine will vary with a lot of factors like age, weight, and metabolism.
And here is something you might not know: caffeine addiction makes caffeine ineffective. You will need to drink more caffeine to stimulate your body and get the effect of feeling “alert” you expect. That is probably why a large coffee retailer recently launched a 2x caffeine product.
The Vicious Cycle of Caffeine Addiction
Our love of coffee can quickly fall into an endless loop to ward off the negative effects of a caffeine addiction. Anyone that won’t talk to you before they consume their morning coffee needs to modify their relationship with caffeine. Coffee should be something you want, not something you need to not feel bad in the morning.
All or Nothing?
Coffee can be almost as polarizing as politics. Some people passionately and proudly wear their caffeine addiction like a badge of honor and can’t imagine cutting back. While others have discovered the negative impacts of caffeine, consider it an evil drug, and think it should be avoided at all costs. The truth is somewhere in-between.
While I was consuming upwards of 3x the recommended daily safe limit of caffeine, I would have still argued “I can’t cut back, I NEEED that to get through the day.” I wrote all my symptoms off to stress. Work, school, home, family, my boss, the bills; they are what stressed me out and made me feel anxious, sleepless, and jittery. It couldn’t be my coffee. I love my coffee. It helps me get thing done and be successful. Except it didn’t.
Instead, what I’ve found is that I didn’t have to quit caffeine to feel great and have less stress. I just had to give up my caffeine addiction. Needing a cup of coffee was my problem, not wanting one.
But, Reducing Caffeine is Hard. Right?
In a 2019 survey, 66% of regular coffee drinkers agreed “It is important to limit my caffeine intake.” So, if people know they need to control their caffeine intake, why is it that people fail to modify caffeine ingestion an average of 2.7 times?
Because caffeine withdrawal symptoms are brutal and can undermine the best of intentions and crush willpower. A caffeine addiction won’t let you walk away just because you changed you mind and want a different relationship. Caffeine addiction won’t be ignored. Within 12 hours of your last cup, caffeine withdrawal symptoms can kick in. These symptoms can be so bad that people report having to miss work because of them:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle pain or stiffness
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
And they don’t go away overnight. While officially, medical professionals say symptoms will last about 14 days, people have reported some symptoms lasting for months.
But there is good news for those wishing to give up their caffeine addiction: a simple, stepwise approach can often eliminate the need for a “fix” without suffering the most severe withdrawal symptoms. Johns Hopkins recommends the best way to give up a caffeine addiction is to gradually reduce caffeine consumption over time by substituting low-caffeine products. Johns Hopkins confirms “Using this method allows people to reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.”
One reason people may fail in their DIY effort to step down caffeine is that they often choose to substitute with decaf coffee. While decaf may seem to be a practical choice, it actually has inconsistent levels of caffeine. The caffeine in decaf can fluctuate based on the bean and the brew. That means you might be getting too much or too little caffeine to effectively manage your caffeine intake from cup-to-cup.
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