My personal jury is still out when it comes to the question of drinking, or not drinking, coffee. I managed to quit and got completely rid of any abstinence symptoms earlier this year. The relief came after no less than a week of torment, including fatigue, total lack of motivation, headaches and all kinds of general, and at times overwhelming, discomfort. Why put yourself through this, then? To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure. My quitting coffee was, and is, something of an experiment.
Once freed of abstinence and cravings, I did experience some quite appealing advantages. My sleep improved and I felt well rested upon waking. In addition to this, my energy levels remained high and level during the day, taking no notable dive in the afternoon. While these effects were indeed welcome, an even more attractive effect turned out to be the possibility of using caffeine as a performance enhancer. I noticed that a cup of strong coffee in the morning made me positively euphoric and utterly unstoppable during the day. A few days a month, I get up at four o’clock in the morning in order to catch the train, hold lectures the entire day, not returning home until late evening. Coffee-doping was certainly very handy on these occasions.
Then – during our summer vacation in Gaucín – I got greedy. Throughout my coffee-free months, I had a small cup in the morning on days when this was genuinely called for, but in Spain, coffee kept calling more and more frequently. First, there was the flight. I’m not afraid of flying, but my anxiety levels peak when I’m forced to sit still for extended periods of time. Therefore, I bribed myself with caffeine on the day of travel. Then, because of having travelled, and due to the flight arriving very late at night, we were both exhausted the next day – and surely having some delicious, Spanish coffee the first day of vacation isn’t so bad? Then, thanks to a pack of extremely loud dogs, the village roosters, blood-thirsty mosquitos and not yet being used to the heat, came some lousy nights of sleep – and wouldn’t it be a shame to let this get to me, when just one cup of coffee would rectify it?
As if these excuses weren’t enough, I also treated myself before – and after – some of the more strenuous, physical and mental challenges we embarked upon. The last nail in the coffin, however, turned out to be the simple fact that having afternoon coffee in a shady, Spanish square, letting the hot afternoon pass by while watching people come and go, is just so devilishly nice. After three weeks of relatively moderate caffeine-cheating, I gave in, realising that it was highly unlikely that I pull myself out of my relapse during the trip. The last week or so, I was all the way back to business as usual, craving one cup in the morning and one in the afternoon. As we speak, I’ve returned home to Gothenburg a raging addict, two days into caffeine-detox.
Back to the question of drinking, or not drinking, coffee, then. Is it friend or foe? The research on the health hazards and benefits of coffee provide little help in resolving this matter, since meta-studies imply that there are some good things, and some bad things, related to it. It could very well be that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. On my part, the decision doesn’t so much rely on fear of potential, but seemingly small, risks, but on the potential advantages of not being addicted – one of them, being the possibility to use coffee as a surprisingly potent performance enhancer. In addition to this, I’m attracted to the idea of not needing a cup every morning just to wake up and function – just as I prefer ketogenic eating because it eliminates your need to snack between meals, and allows you to even skip the odd meal, making you more resistant. Two days into caffeine-withdrawal, however, I’m gravly tempted to regress.
In fine, but importantly – let me add that while I’m quite annoyed at myself for having to go through the hardships of withdrawal a second time, I’m also deeply humbled by the recognition that many people fight substance addictions exponentially more serious than caffeine. Not only is coffee less addictive than tobacco, narcotics and alkohol, but the habit of an afternoon café solo is seldom pursued to take the edge off of overbearing life conditions or emotional turmoil. Quitting coffee, therefore, is just quitting coffee.