Photo by Mike Kenneally

My Addiction to Caffeine (and how I lived to tell about it)

By Kyla Jacobo, DPT

Ahh…that first sip feeling.

A good cup of coffee. It’s not just a cup of coffee…it’s an experience for all the senses. The warmth in my hands. The aroma as I bring it close to my face. The slightly bitter, but creamy flavor as a take that first sip. Bliss!

Actually for me, it wasn’t coffee…it was espresso. Latte, cappuccino, doppio espresso.  I loved the bold flavor and velvety crema. I had a routine each morning of packing the grounds, choosing a demitasse mug from my collection, and brewing the perfect cup of espresso. If I had the time…and if the kids were not asleep…I would steam some milk, which is an art in itself. Not too hot. Create foam, but not too much. Tilt the container at just the right angle. It wasn’t just coffee, it was a ritual in which I participated that brought great pleasure. 

I was a self-proclaimed coffee connoisseur…as in trying various styles of coffee and different coffee shops in places I visited…mostly just to get my coffee fix!

One of my favorite places to do this was Carmel, a quaint little town that is home to a multitude of art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. Flaherty’s is a must stop for a bowl of clam chowder and oysters.

Carmel is a coastal town, so the weather is typically brisk with the smell of salt water in the air. It doesn’t take long for my coffee craving to set in. There are a few local cafes to choose from, but I head to my favorite coffee shop on Ocean Avenue. The line is usually long, but it’s worth the wait for a decadent pastry and warm, creamy latte. 

Sounds lovely, right?

But like anything…too much of a good thing can be bad. 

It was Mother’s Day. We decided to take a hike up to Yosemite Falls with some friends. The plan was to start early, hike up to the falls, and then grab an early dinner. While I should have been concerned about proper hydration and nutrition to get me through the rigorous hike, my mind was focused on coffee. There were no coffee shops along the trails of Yosemite National Park where I could get a latte or a quick shot of espresso. Not even a convenient store to grab a cup of stale coffee for a caffeine fix. 

So I packed my own. Starbucks makes those little cans of espresso and cream. More sugar than I would normally care for…but perfect for my hike. While others were gulping down water on the dry, hot day, I was drinking espresso. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with drinking an espresso. The problem lies in the dependence on caffeine. I knew that if I didn’t have caffeine during the hike, my head would be pounding and I would feel terrible. My fun Mother’s Day excursion would turn into a dreadful, miserable experience. And this was not unique to my hiking trip. My preoccupation with coffee was a common theme in any vacation or family function we attended…and my day to day routine seemed to revolve around my next cup of joe.

Enough was enough!

It was at that moment that I decided to stop drinking coffee. First, I tried to slowly wean off with the hopes that my body would adapt to the new routine. I even attempted to replace coffee with green tea in order to lower the caffeine content. That failed miserably. I was still getting the excruciating headaches and still craving my coffee ritual. 

So I went cold turkey! 

The first week was brutal! I gave my coveted espresso machine to a family member so I would not be tempted. I tried to drink lots of water and relied on an occasional Advil to dampen the pounding headache. As time went on, I began to have some serious withdrawals. My back was hurting up and down my spine, such that I could not find a comfortable position. I had difficulty sleeping due to the back pain and anxiously got up at night to pace the bedroom. I can recall one night feeling so nauseous as though I may throw up. When I leaned over, my head began to spin and I nearly fell. 

Now, mind you…this withdrawal was not from one morning cup of coffee. This was from a decade long addiction to 2-3 double shots of espresso every day, even more at times.  Also keep in mind that caffeine affects people differently based on a particular gene that we all have. This gene will determine the speed in which our body metabolizes caffeine, thus our sensitivity to it. 

If you find yourself becoming dependent on caffeine, take inventory on how often you drink it and how you feel when you don’t have it. Like me, you may be a slow metabolizer of caffeine, which requires you to be more cognizant of your intake. I now limit myself to one cup of coffee in the morning. While I would love to have a second…or third!…cup, I remember the hellish week I had. If it’s after 10 am, I’ll take some water or kombucha instead!