I was all set to quit, and excited about it, really; fully hyped for the quitting I was. But then it occurred to me that the only way to know definitively whether quitting coffee is having any real effect on me is to accurately record what is happening to me before I quit, and what exactly happens to me when I drink coffee. Right? Am I right, or am I right? I mean, say I got to the end of the experiment and reported that due to quitting coffee I now feel:
- constantly joyful (I skip down the street singing and hugging strangers);
- waaay less stressed (I have established a warm and loving relationship with the neighbour’s stupid yapping little POS dog that won’t shut up with the barking at all hours of the day and night); and
- less dehydrated/headachy.
Even the Food Babe 1 would immediately recognise that the results are meaningless, because I never established that before quitting coffee, I was a joyless and often thirsty dog hater.
So really, when you think about it, I am obligated at this stage of the experiment to continue with the coffee drinking in order to establish what we scientists call a baseline, against which I can assess the results and draw reliable conclusions.2 For example: were I to report that by 11am on day one with no coffee, I felt as though someone was repeatedly smacking my head with a blunt but quite heavy object; the temptation to blame caffeine withdrawal would be very strong, particularly given that this is an effect I’m fully expecting. However this conclusion would start to look dubious if I then confessed that one of the side effects of the anti-psychotic drugs I’m currently taking is severe headaches on waking, which I do daily at about 11am.3
There is one major problem with this experiment4 – many of the reported benefits, side effects, and withdrawal symptoms of caffeine amount to subjective experience. Here’s a short list of the things I have blamed on excessive coffee consumption in the past (and between you and I, have secretly hoped were caused by excessive coffee consumption because if not they point strongly to some deeper psychological issues – like, this dude really needs therapy type issues): stress; scattered thinking; poor concentration levels; elevated levels of annoyance with my fellow human beings; a dislike of loud noises (particularly intermittent and percussive noises such as those discharged by small yapping dogs); digestive issues that are seemingly related to increased levels of stomach acidity; anxiousness, elation (at times, but rarely); despondency; fatigue; feeling that a second coffee is imperative; appetite suppression; elevated heart rate; headaches; a maddeningly twitching eyelid; dehydration; and the loss of 50-60 thousand dollars.5
Despite appearances to the contrary, I have actually done some serious research into the effects of drinking coffee, caffeine withdrawal, caffeine poisoning (yes, it’s a thing6), caffeine addiction etc. My initial reaction was to suspect that the reason I want to quit coffee so much is that I had somehow unconsciously absorbed all the hysterical Woo and unsubstantiated bullshit that’s been published on the web about it. Cancer, toxins, misaligned chakras – coffee has been blamed for everything from bad breath to full-blown psychosis. But when I started to dig a bit deeper my reaction changed to one more along the lines of ‘Holy Shit! Why didn’t I know about this?’
So after reading a whole bunch of anecdotal horror stories and ads for detoxing with ayurvedic colonic irrigation procedures (ironically one ‘irrigates’ with a caffeine laced bowel washing fluid; and no, I’m not making this up), I decided to look for some credible information. Caffeine Intoxication is a genuine Substance-Related Disorder as defined in the DSM (the classification and diagnostic go to manual for shrinks and psycs7). It is diagnosed as follows: Patient has consumed more than 250 mg of caffeine (2-3 cups of brewed coffee) and experienced 5 or more of the following symptoms: restlessness; nervousness; excitement; insomnia; flushed face; diuresis (having to pee a lot); gastrointestinal disturbance; muscle twitching; rambling flow of thought and speech; tachycardia or cardiac arrhythmia; periods of inexhaustibility or psychomotor agitation (unintentional motion, say, rapidly bouncing one leg [or eyelid]).8 What!? You gotta be f’ing kidding me. I’ve had at least 7 of these symptoms every day for the last 20 years! I thought it was just who I was. That is some disturbing shit.
Unsurprisingly given the above information, Caffeine Withdrawal has also been declared an official disorder in the DSM. You apparently have it if you experience 3 or more of the following symptoms: headache; fatigue or drowsiness; dysphoric mood or irritability; difficulty concentrating; nausea, vomiting, or muscle pain/stiffness9. Given that 4 out of 5 of these symptoms happen to me on any day that I haven’t had coffee by 11am, I’m sure as shit not looking forward to 11am on day three. I’m feeling dysphoric just thinking about it!
Alright. Baseline established. Tomorrow is quittin’ day dear readers. Wish me luck – I’m gonna need it.
- If you don’t know who this is, you’ve been spared. You can substitute “Tony Abbott”, or “my neighbour’s dog”. ↩
- And this is very upsetting for me because I was soooo wanting to quit immediately. ↩
- In scientific terminology this is called confirmation bias. It means that before the experiment I consciously or unconsciously decide what result I expect/want to see, and then I yell out “Ah Ha!! I KNEW IT!” whenever I see a result I expect/want, and I ignore everything else. ↩
- Actually from a scientific standpoint there are shit loads – confounding variables out the wazoo. But detailing them here would be an eye glazingly boring exercise. Suffice to say you’re never gonna see the results of this experiment grace the pages of the illustrious Journal of Experimental Psychology. ↩
- Anyone who knows me at all is thinking that this is a severely truncated list designed to make me look good. So in the interests of science I should probably also include my general lack of tolerance for: smokers; drunks; loud pubs; quiet pubs; interruptions; girls who scream OH MY GOD!! and run squealing up to hug anyone they haven’t seen in the last 3 days; hippies; God Botherers; anyone who thinks that The Food Babe is a source of credible information re food (actually, I’m fine with that one); anti-vaccination…people; climate change deniers; anyone who says “that’s just a theory” in relation to a Scientific Theory; anyone who looks at a Jackson Pollock painting and says “I could do that”; Liberals(a) and…OK, I got a liiiitle carried away there. If there’s anyone left unoffended and still reading, I think this whole paragraph could be summed up as “reduced levels of tolerance” and/or “a tendency to be judgemental.” (a)Confusingly for everyone outside of Australia (and even for some who live there), the local right-wing nut-job Party (currently in Government) call themselves the “Liberal Party”, which is the exact opposite of what they actually are. This absurdity is got round by denoting them as ‘large-L Liberals’, as opposed to ‘small-l liberals’. It’s a blatant case of false advertising for which I think they should be royally sued. ↩
- People can and do die from excessive caffeine intake, though mostly it’s from too many of those awful energy drinks, and it’s relatively rare. Caffeine Informer.(There’s also a cool calculator on here that shows how many coffees you’d need to drink before you’d die, corrected for body weight. For me it’s 70). There was one poor bastard who got drunk and ate a whole tin of coffee flavoured chocolate mints. Turns out there was 80mg of caffeine in each one so… he died. The Conversation – Death by Caffeine Really is a Thing, if you’re Susceptible. ↩
- The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification and diagnostic tool. ↩
- Theravive. AND Time Magazine: Health. Caffeine Withdrawal Is Now a Mental Disorder. AND others…but I’m not writin’ my friggin PhD thesis here. ↩
- Time Magazine: Health. Caffeine Withdrawal Is Now a Mental Disorder. Ditto re PhD thesis. ↩