I really do have an addictive personality: 1 week of coffee = 3 days of pain

I’ve talked about my addictive personality before in terms of why I don’t play video games and how it’s difficult for me to get off fora (until I’m kicked off or quit cold turkey).

I almost never drink coffee.  Usually this is because when I get a migraine, coffee + aspirin + sleep is the only way to make it go away, so I want to keep my tolerance low.  But occasionally after a bad night I’ll partake in some decaf or when things are really bad, a full cup of regular.  I almost never do this more than 2 days in a row.  And never after 11am if I want to get any sleep at night.

Recently I had some bad deadline times.  So I drank coffee for a full 7 days, starting with a cup of decaf and ending with 2 cups of regular by the time the week was over.  I started craving it and could feel it making my life better.

Then I turned in the thing and crashed hard.  The next day I had a major headache and had a cup of decaf to try to wean down.  It helped a little but not enough.  When the weekend came, I stopped drinking coffee and ended up in bed with a pounding headache.  I kept wanting coffee so badly.  A little sip of DH’s salted caramel mocha made angels sing in my head, but wasn’t enough to truly make things right.

I still want coffee.

Most people can drink caffeine for 7 days straight (some of them decaf or only half a cup!) and then go cold-turkey with maybe only a little bit of tiredness as an effect.  I can’t.

Most people take longer to become truly addicted to something.  Apparently not me.

I had Valium once prior to a surgery.  If it were available OTC, I would eventually never leave my bed.  I still want Valium.

So, this is why I don’t do drugs.  Because it doesn’t take me long to crave them and to crash when I don’t get them.  And it’s scary not being in control of my body.  Also, I don’t like withdrawal symptoms.

Do you have problems with addiction?  Do you ever wean yourself off caffeine?  How does that go?

41 Responses to “I really do have an addictive personality: 1 week of coffee = 3 days of pain”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    For the record, quitting coffee was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My boss at the time even asked if I was having problems at home because my demeanor changed so much. It took like 3 months to get to be myself again. But coffee causes stomach pain YET I am still looking for loopholes because I love it so much. (If I work out really hard like all day on a weekend, gym then yard work for example, I can have a cup in the AM, but only if I haven’t had one in over a week)

    Both my parents were alcoholics so I am careful with addictive things. I am amazed how addictive sugar is to me now. I have gained weight after stopping caffeine because I just substituted another vice. Food is so hard because you are making so many daily choices and you can’t quit cold turkey.

    Health takes constant vigilance. It’s so easy to backslide in innumerable ways.

    • Leah Says:

      Ooh, sugar is so bad for addiction. I too have to be careful there and create rules around sugar consumption lest I backslide. After I went back to work post-kid, I was eating a candy bar a day (for “energy,” but to deal with job stress and lack of sleep). I lost the baby weight pretty quickly from nursing and gained it all back from milky way bars :-/

  2. Leah Says:

    My dad has a lot of issues with caffeine, so I have intentionally never gotten into caffeinated stuff. I do find I can get obsessive about things (must finish puzzle; can’t stop video game; keep putting coins in slot machine), so I similarly work really hard not to start things that tend to be hard for me to stop.

    I imagine this will be a good conversation for you to have with each of your DCs when the time is right. Knowing about my dad’s issues (and learning about alcoholism and other addictive behaviors) really helped me avoid those issues in my life.

    • Dana Says:

      I agree with Leah, knowing that addiction runs in my family helped me avoid trying anything that I might get addicted to. Watching my dad try to quit smoking over and over was really good incentive to never smoke!

  3. middle_class Says:

    I’m the same way with coffee. I quit the daily habit due to sugar and headaches. Now I only drink it with milk, no sugar, and once a week. it’s a great treat and I look forward to it a lot!

  4. Omdg Says:

    What you’ve described actually sounds like a normal physiologic response to ingesting those substances. Caffeine intake causes unregulation of adenosine receptors, and benzodiazepines do something similar to gaba receptors. You therefore start needing the drug to feel normal. Three days of caffeine withdrawal is pretty typical. But yes! They are hard to stop, that’s for sure!

  5. chacha1 Says:

    I don’t seem to have an addictive tendency. I have gone on and off of coffee, relatively painlessly, several times over the years – last year I quit because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have any the day before my big surgery, and I did NOT want to wake up in recovery with both a six-inch incision and a caffeine-withdrawal headache. I am back to a regular one cup a day habit. It is easy for me to avoid having more than one cup, and I do avoid it because if I have caffeine too late in the day I can’t sleep.

    Caffeine is powerful stuff! Sugar is also powerful. (As is alcohol.) I am pretty good about managing both (sugar is tough because it is added to so many foods where you wouldn’t expect it) and I wouldn’t say I *crave* it when I go for a long stretch without a sugar delivery system. But then the management is key. I can’t be having “muffins” (aka cupcakes without frosting) for breakfast, or candy bars for snacks; that’s just asking for trouble. I don’t crave salt either. I think ultimately my own metabolism is part of the win there, and a generally balanced diet is the other part. I don’t have any nutrient deficiencies so my body isn’t yelling for anything.

    fwiw I would not have tried going straight to decaf. It’s the caffeine in the coffee that’s addictive, so if you go straight from caffeine to no caffeine, you will get that withdrawal effect. When I quit last year I tapered it down. Half caff for about a week, quarter caff for another week, then decaf and then I just stopped coffee because I mostly drink it for the caffeine. Mmmmm delicious caffeeeeeine. :-)

  6. Cloud Says:

    Oh, that sucks. I’m sorry. I have fairly low addictive tendencies. I’m physiologically addicted to caffeine right now, but I know from experience that giving it up would be three days of headaches, and not really any craving. The thing I missed the most in earlier periods of being caffeine free was the ritual of making and drinking my tea. I can replace that with herbal teas, but usually just choose to drop the habit when I need to go off caffeine (e.g., when pregnant and breastfeeding… you necessarily don’t have to quit caffeine, but I chose to).

    I had opioids when I had kidney stones and powerful muscle relaxants after a car accident. In both cases, I noted how nice they felt, and could see why people get addicted. But I don’t want them now.

    Do you think that if you were able to run enough to trigger the runner’s high you’d eventually get addicted to that? I know a couple of recovering alcoholics who are now triathletes, and have always wondered if there was some transference going on there.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      No, but I suspect that if I linked listening to the “how to make friends” podcast (a feminist podcast about the bachelorette franchise) to running that I might. (My current addiction.)

      Right now I’m listening to it while doing boring data work and it helps! Work productivity being more important than exercise.

      Though tbh, one of the reasons I hate running is because it really hurts my lungs and has ever since I had pneumonia. Like slicing dry pain in my lungs. That’s sort of the opposite of addictive.

      • Cloud Says:

        Ugh. Dry slicing pain sounds no good.

        I have to work up running distance really slowly, because of my asthma. I describe the feeling of trying to run more than my lungs are ready for as feeling like there is a hard block my lungs are hitting. I think of the process of increasing distance as like stretching my lungs. This is probably bogus, but that’s the picture in my head. I start from running literally a single block. Right now I’m at run two blocks, walk two blocks, run two blocks, walk two blocks, run two blocks, walk two blocks… home! So not much at all. My husband runs the distance of a half-marathon every Saturday. I feel like such a slacker!

        I actually don’t like running as much as almost any other form of exercise, for this reason. But it is what fits best in my life right now, and I dislike the feeling I get when I’m not exercising at all more.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The internet tells me it’s probably allergies or asthma or a really sensitive trachea. So the post-pneumonia thing is probably all in my head.

        I guess when I leave paradise I can go back to swimming in the HOA pool.

  7. becca Says:

    I don’t have a problem with coffee addiction, I enjoy every minute of it ;-)

    Actually, I do sometimes have issues when I’m decreasing doses.Sensitivity to headaches being the big one. I get jittery when I increase too fast, but that has mellowed enormously as I’ve gotten older- either I’m not so sensitive now, or I know not to overdo it. I mostly max out at two cups before noon, but usually less.
    During pregnancy 1, I mostly switched from caffeinated coffee to tea or decaf. I’m now in pregnancy 2, and had no taste for coffee during the first trimester. Now (2nd trimester) it tastes good again.
    I’m not especially good at getting rid of ordinary bad habits, but I’m probably not inclined to extremes on them.

    I would probably get habituated to THC if it were legal, cheap, and readily available in edible form. Maybe also true of other hallucinogens. Other stimulants would probably be easier to get badly addicted to than caffeine, and I would not mess with out of caution. I have an extreme visceral dislike of nicotine and opiates due to seeing what they can do, so there’s no inclination there.

    3 days of withdrawal for 7 days of light/moderate use does seem a bit high to me, but I’ve almost always tapered so I’m not sure.

  8. Susan Says:

    I love coffee.

    That said, please note that the physiological reaction you’ve described is habituation or dependence, not addiction. There are crucial differences, and those are words to be careful with. Because: those of use who have used* opioids long-term for management of serious pain are too well aware of the distinction, and so very tired of every article that screams ADDICTION! CRIMINAL! EPIDEMIC! and presumes that anyone who uses* them is guilty and addicted, leading to regulations that just make it harder to manage the long-term pain in ways that are compatible with a career.

    *And by used I mean: used. Not USED. Not misused. Not gobbled off-schedule. Not used to numb and zone out. Not overused. Not robbing a pharmacy. Not shooting up heroin. Not diverting. Just: taken according to directions to manage serious, otherwise-disabling pain.

    Sorry, serious bone to pick here.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      How is addiction different than dependence? Because I do feel a loss of control (which I hate) and it is very difficult for me to not just get a cup of coffee right now even though I’m not sleepy and don’t have a headache. I’ve had to stop getting decaf because I know it will be easy for me to convince myself I need more.

      If Valium were OTC I would start taking just little bits and end up in bed forever. I don’t have chronic pain, I just want to feel that sense of peace again. A little wouldn’t hurt. And then a little more wouldn’t hurt. And then I would have to go cold turkey and get treatment.

      If I need to put up commitment devices to keep from using something and it takes willpower to not use something without those commitment devices, how is that not addiction?

      • oldmdgirl Says:

        Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Like driving high, or losing your job, or messing up other life commitments because you’re high or seeking to become high. You can have physiologic dependence (i.e. you get a headache and cravings if you don’t have it), but you’re not messing up your life because of it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That’s the definition for whether or not people need treatment. And I see it is the MD definition of addiction. However the most recent version of the APA DSM can include but doesn’t require harmful consequences.

        So (like chacha says)… differences in context.

      • chacha1 Says:

        I personally feel that in general conversation, using the terms interchangeably isn’t a big deal, but *technically* I guess “addiction” is more appropriately applied to psychological dependence? Where you WANT the thing. e.g. a food “addiction” or a sex “addiction”. Whereas “habituation” or just plain “dependence” would refer to physiological dependence, where you NEED the thing – in order to, say, avoid sweating, nose-running, shaking, vision-impaired, memory-lapsing desperation.

        The law-enforcement view of (particularly opiate) drug use is the one given the most play, and use of “addiction” in that context is nearly always pejorative. I don’t know of anyone who uses “habituation” outside the health-care context. But of course as Susan fairly notes, when it comes to prescription opiates, law-enforcement and health-care contexts have a big, fat, Boss Of You overlap.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yeah, the term definitely has different meanings in different contexts (as do a lot of economics terms!). Here we’re using it colloquially.

      • Susan Says:

        Words are important. Words are really, really important. Please reconsider your use of “addicted”.

        People like me who use* opioids to manage chronic pain — and there are millions of us, quietly going about our days — are paying the price of the colloquial misuse of the word “addicted” (eg, teenagers “addicted” to cellphones, adults “addicted” to coffee). It is a steep price. If ever I cop to being in pain, it invariably leads to a stupid, stupid conversation about addicted!!! those drugz!!! they make you addicted!!!. On top of pain, I am accused of being an addict. Great.

        It’s also a disservice to those who are addicted — their deep problems and their very real, life-long disease is confounded with teenagers and their phones, with people “so addicted to my spin class!”.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Words have meaning, but even in professional contexts they have different meanings. We are social scientists and the definition used fits with the American psychological association’s definition (version 5).

        I don’t want to open a can of worms, but actual opiod addiction is a real problem (David Cutler recently talked about it with statistical evidence). It is difficult to strike the balance between alleviating pain and overprescribing and instead of hitting the right balance, the country swings from one pendulum side to the other.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Given the skyrocketing rates of drug overdose among populations where it never used to show up, sometimes society has to err on the side of “this should be discouraged and avoided wherever possible.” Of course that doesn’t mean that where no other intervention succeeds, you should withhold the one intervention that works *just in case* someone makes a mistake with their dosage. Context context context.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s just easier and less expensive to make broad-sweeping rules than to look at things on a case-by-case basis. And even on case-by-case bases, there are people willing to be bribed. Not an easy problem. Difficult to know what the right policy solution is that will keep people from having unnecessary pain, but will also decrease the public health disaster from overdosing and related concerns.

  9. crazy grad mama Says:

    I weaned myself off caffeine when I was pregnant, got well past the withdrawal period, and then discovered that a cup of caffeinated tea was a surprisingly powerful antidepressant and started drinking it again. Non-pregnant me tries to keep it at two cups (of tea, I hate coffee) a day because my stomach starts complaining when I go above that.

    I think my personality is more obsessive than addictive, in that I tend to get really into something for a while, but then I’ll get bored and be able to stop without much trouble.

  10. Linda Says:

    I am an ex-smoker. Because I smoked for a long time and it took several attempts to fully quit, I would have been inclined to say that I have an addictive personality. But based on my ability to set limits in other areas, maybe not?

    I drink a mix of decaf and regular coffee every day, but I can skip it without real withdrawal. Several years ago I noticed caffeine-withdrawal symptoms and started weaning myself off the fully caffeinated stuff. When I was hospitalized for several days last December I wasn’t allowed any coffee and I did fine without it. Likewise, I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to sugar, either. I like sweets, but usually when I have a food craving it’s for something salty (like nuts or popcorn) or bittersweet (like dark chocolate). I miss nuts and popcorn so badly. :-( (Also berries, and celery, and cauliflower, and…well, the list is seemingly endless at this point.)

    Drugs…well…let’s just say that I tried one kind of illegal substance (not a kind you inject or smoke) over 20 years ago that made me feel so fantastic I knew I could never, ever try it again. I could easily see how I could get addicted to it. I don’t seem to have a problem with prescription opioids. I’ve been given plenty of hydrocodone prescriptions over the past year due to multiple bouts of diverticulitis, and I’ve never had a problem determining when to take it and when not to take it. Maybe that’s ’cause hydrocodone seems to do very little for that type pain, in my experience. All I know is I have a bottles of the stuff sitting around the house and am never tempted to take one unless it’s my last and only option. The only prescription drug I’ve been given that makes me feel pain-free when diverticulitis is flared up is Dilaudid. Man, that stuff is awesome. Also, highly addictive, apparently, so I’m fine with getting it very sparingly. I found out I was allergic to Tramadol (it makes me itch a lot!), so that bottle of pills now has to get disposed of properly.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I was given hydrocodone post-surgery, and wasn’t impressed. The only thing good about it was it didn’t make me nauseated like the drip morphine did. I got off it pretty fast because my pain wasn’t severe and I preferred to self-medicate with wine. :-)

      • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

        I’ve been similarly unimpressed with hydrocodone and a few other prescription opioids but had the reverse problem – they made me very nauseated. It’d be awesome if we could develop pain meds that just deal with the pain without any problems of nausea OR euphoria. I live in hope.

  11. Katherine Says:

    I’ve never been addicted to/dependent on caffeine, mostly since my dad is very dependent on it and I decided pretty early on that I didn’t want to be at risk of headaches if I didn’t get coffee on time. I have enough headaches already. My husband was even more dependent than my dad, but in the last year or two he started having trouble with sleep so he cut back significantly and is now at just 2 cups/day (down from about 2 liters). He cut back very gradually, and even so I think it took about 6 months before he felt normal without it. Before he cut back, every time we went on a backpacking trip he would spend a few miserable weeks trying to get himself down to 2 or 3 cups per day so he would be okay on the trail. It was no fun for either of us.

    I recognize that a lot of people really love coffee, but I’ve never understood why it’s worth the risk of withdrawal symptoms. About 10 years ago, my MIL had a stroke, and then in the next few days in the hospital her vital signs were apparently going crazy until her partner realized she was in caffeine withdrawal and they gave her some in an IV drip. Now she is pretty much completely recovered, and she drinks half-caff.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My DH spends a lot of time managing his caffeine intake. Right now every other day and none on weekends seems to let him enjoy the benefits without getting a headache.

      Caffeine withdrawal while unconscious sounds extra scary.

  12. xykademiqz Says:

    Sorry, maybe I didn’t read carefully — why can’t you have 1 cup a day or so? Or 1 cup of decaf?
    Drinking coffee is hardly the worst habit one can have.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Leaving aside the it’s the only thing that works on my migraines thing, it wouldn’t last at a cup a day. My addictions never stay moderate. On top of that I started feeling terrible before I got the coffee and I don’t like feeling like I am not in control of myself.

  13. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I’m worried that I’ll become addicted to things because problems with addiction run in the family but honestly I’ve only got a general addiction to certain foods that I’d happily eat for days at a time if i could but luckily I am too lazy to actually support this habit.

    Also luckily I don’t think I am truly easily addicted to anything, I can resist most cravings and don’t have a physical craving for the medications that keep me functional. Intellectually I regret not taking them if I miss a dose but I don’t feel any longing for them if that makes sense.

    It’s easy to get sucked into books though. That’s the one thing where I KNOW BETTER but still have the worst trouble being an adult and putting them down when it’s hours past time to be asleep. If I had that trouble with anything else I’d be a sad sad mess.

  14. Nanani Says:

    I drink coffee every day and get headaches if I don’t get enough, but I’ve never tried nor wanted to quit. I just don’t see the point of quitting an addiction that is delicious. If I had to drastically readjust my food and drink spending, maybe, but as it is the grinds in my coffee maker and the time spent making a pot are just not costs that need to be cut.

    In general, although I grew being TOLD I have an addictive personality and shouldn’t do various things, I don’t think it’s true. For instance, I can stay off my favourite video games in order to get work done. In fact I am doing this right now – no turning on the console until the day’s work is done (this comment is being written during a coffee break, appropriately enough).

    I don’t do non-caffeine drugs, including alcohol, but that’s not so much a fear of addiction as a lack of interest in the altered states those drugs produce.

    Hope your headaches die off quickly.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I can’t stay off video game to work or shower or sleep or even use the restroom. It is scary. So I quit cold turkey.

      No problem with alcohol though. But I also don’t feel a pleasant buzz etc with it. My face gets hot and tight and I get sleepy instead.

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