Coke Fiend

Posted: March 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have a lot of experience at quitting caffeine. Back in undergrad I had a habit of steadily ramping up my caffeine consumption until the point where I was constantly either having a headache from too little caffeine or feeling twitchy and nasty… at which point I’d quit cold turkey, only to repeat the cycle again. Continued on this path until an unfortunate metabolic incident a few years ago.

The story behind that incident is interesting in itself, but the pertinent part of it is this: Caffeine has a function that is in some senses similar to thyroid hormone. I have a thyroid condition; it got out of control. Before I figured out what was going on, I unconsciously attempted to substitute caffeine. Needless to say, this did not work. I still got ragingly addicted though, and because a rather hard time in my life followed from that experience I also became distinctly intolerant to the sorts of sensations that came from caffeine withdrawal. So I ended up with a pretty much permanent caffeine addiction that was something of a joke among my friends and family and a minor financial burden.

I finally decided to quit (again) around Thanksgiving weekend. I’d traveled to visit my family in Houston, and was dependent on my parents and their rental car to get around. What I found was that when uprooted from my daily habits and reliable access to the company snack bar / the 7-11 around the corner / the grocery store, I was constantly having to go off to random gas stations to get my fix. Some of these gas stations didn’t take especially good care of their stock, and in addition the disruption to my schedule was causing me to be sick and cranky anyway.

Obviously, this would interfere greatly with my enjoyment of the zombie apocalypse.

What I ended up doing was something of a hybrid between the “cold turkey” and “imperceptible taper” solutions — the former is distinctly unpleasant, while I find the latter gives me the opportunity to imperceptibly taper right back up to where I was before. Instead, I cut down to drinking one cup of coffee from the company snack bar each morning. Since I’d cut out the class of caffeinated soft drinks entirely, this being my primary problem, and the thing that I was allowed was relatively contained, this solved the problem of letting myself slide back. The fact that I was consuming some coffee in the morning also helped deal with some of the… gastric… consequences of caffeine withdrawal.

The most important aspect of my success here was the mental game — not so much in resisting the simple temptation to drink this or that, but in telling myself that I could deal with the depressed and low-energy feeling while it lasted and still get things done while I felt that way. Had I not maintained that attitude, I probably would have quit the project entirely after a couple days.

I hadn’t intended to quit caffeine near-completely in the beginning; I was planning to keep up the morning cup of coffee more or less indefinitely. What I found, though, was that I was reliably crashing and having minor caffeine withdrawal symptoms (tiredness and headaches) in the late afternoon or early evening. Hence, after a brief period of toying with half-decaf coffee, I went entirely to decaf.

Not sure where exactly I am going to go from here. I’m not deeply committed to never drinking caffeine again; I simply choose not to do it regularly at the moment because it’s not convenient. And in any case I’m permitting myself to occasionally have caffeinated soft drinks or coffee beverages if I care to — although I’m finding that I have to be careful about this, as a tall Starbucks coffee beverage seems to be enough to virtually induce altered states of consciousness at the level of tolerance I’m at now.

I’ve made abortive attempts to also quit non-caffeinated soft drinks and miscellaneous beverages, but that nut is a bit tougher to crack as I often find myself needing the sensory stimulation. However, I don’t see that as a terribly high priority given that it doesn’t affect my energy levels and (given that I exclusively drink diet drinks) doesn’t have the health impact of non-diet drinks (I’m aware of the yipping about artificial sweeteners and think it largely bullshit, in any case marginal, and certainly nothing compared to the likely consequences of my drinking a lot of corn syrup on a daily basis given my family history). So that may be next… or it may come after I’ve dealt with more pressing dietary issues.

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