A professor of mine once said “Addiction must feel similar to how I feel trying to get a cup of coffee in the morning.” The students in the room responded to her comment with a little chuckle but she stopped us and said, “I’m serious. When I wake up the first and only thing I’m thinking about is how to get a cup of coffee. But once I have the coffee, I’m okay and I can go about my day.”
Her comparison intrigued me; she is definitely not the only person who greets the day in search of a caffeine fix. Personally, it is difficult to start my morning routine until I have begun drinking my morning coffee. On the way to class, I pass the endless line of students outside Starbucks waiting as long as half an hour to get their fix of coffee. Think of Dunkin Donuts’ slogan, “America runs on Dunkin.” As dramatic as that seems, it’s not entirely false. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, over 50% of Americans age 18 or older drink coffee every day.
As a society, we are hooked on caffeine. Those who have an aversion to coffee still rely on an energy boost through soda, energy drinks, or tea. When consumed in moderation, caffeine truly works in getting people up and working on tasks they have. However, excess caffeine can create health problems such as increased heart rate, tremors, and nausea while also impacting mood by inducing things such as anxiety or depression (“Caffeine in the diet,” 2015). The DSM-5 has a subset of caffeine-related disorders under the substance related and addictive disorders category. These disorders include: caffeine intoxication, caffeine withdrawal, other caffeine-induced disorders, and unspecified caffeine-related disorders. To many, this may seem a stretch to consider caffeine consumption as an addiction, especially because it’s so prevalent in today’s culture. However, while caffeine-related disorders generally don’t have life-threatening symptoms or consequences, it doesn’t mean we should ignore it completely (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Recognizing that people have a dependence on legal substances such as caffeine can possibly help society become more understanding of intense forms of addiction like alcohol and drug abuse. Caffeine is similar to other habit-forming substances in that it alters the chemistry in the brain and has to be metabolized throughout the body to have an impact (“Caffeine in the Body,” 2016).
Although relying on a cup of coffee to wake up every day is common, it is not nearly as debilitating as an addiction to alcohol or heroin. Caffeine won’t likely cause a person to be imprisoned nor act in a violent manner that other substances are known to do. However, thinking about relying on a substance similarly to how my professor did may help society gain clarity in the mental complications involved in addiction. After all, the best way to help those struggling from addiction is to sympathize with the problem needing treatment.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing
Caffeine in the body. (2016). Retrieved October 23, 2016, from http://coffeeandhealth.org/topic-overview/caffeine-in-the-body/
Caffeine in the diet. (2015, April 24). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002445.htm
Coffee by the numbers. (2010). Retrieved October 23, 2016, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/multimedia-article/facts/