On Coffee Addiction

I have a problem when it comes to coffee. I know this. My friends know this. My loved ones know this. The word percolate raises the hair on my arms. The smell of freshly roasted coffee beans practically makes me drool. It wasn’t always like this, but I don’t have any regrets about the way things have gone down.

Corona is a small city situated in Riverside County in the southern reaches of California. At the last census, it had 157,000 citizens. That’s a bit larger than my home town, but the city itself is indistinguishable from the vast sprawl of Los Angeles surrounding it. It was in a little house on the corner of some street or another in Corona that I had my first cup of coffee.

Up until that point, I’d barely managed more than a sip. I couldn’t stand the taste. But on a July day, a twelve-year-old version of myself sat down as his grandma Esther got him a cup of milk with about three drops of coffee in it. He almost, though not quite, enjoyed the taste, but he swallowed it down and asked for more the next morning. And the one after that. And the one after that. Each iteration of the drink had less milk than the previous one, until eventually the kid was drinking liquid as dark as the backs of his eyelids.

Why did I keep going, despite the disgust I felt as bitter tendrils crawled along the base of my tongue with each swallow of coffee? There are two answers. The first is that I enjoyed the energy boost. There isn’t a time in my life I’ve slept well, and after a lifetime of cloudy morning-brain, it felt good to get a shot of caffeine into my system. The second reason is simpler. My father and step-father are both avid coffee drinkers, and at that time in my life, there wasn’t anyone that I admired more than the pair of them.

Keep drinking coffee enough, get into a regular schedule of it, and your body comes to really rely on the caffeine. You need it to feel normal, but you don’t mind because it’s always close at hand. Caffeine is the most common drug in the world, and coffee is chock full of it. Among caffeinated drinks, coffee has the most caffeine by far. The average cup contains 100mg of caffeine, double that of a cup of tea, and 25% more than that of your average soda.

Caffeine doesn’t just make you feel awake, it also releases a surge of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical, and it’s what causes people to become hooked on things like gambling or drugs. Technically, it isn’t possible to get addicted to caffeine. The dopamine surge it offers is only enough to make a person “dependent”, not addicted.

I’m not sure that I can personally tell the difference. I joke that if I’m not drinking coffee within an hour of waking up my day will be ruined with a last migraine, but it’s not really a joke. And there are times I wish I could skip the morning joe.

I have an anxiety disorder. It’s common knowledge that drinking too much coffee makes a person jittery and anxious. Research has linked over-caffeination from coffee consumption to stress and anxiety problems. A cup too many and a person’s head will rush with thoughts as their heart starts beating faster and faster and sweat will begin to form in exactly those places that just make the worrying worse.
This morning I woke up to the hug of familiar tightness in my chest, unable to breathe properly at the very outset of my day. The only solution? A cup of coffee. The smell, the sound of the grind, and of course, the taste, all cast a spell on my mental state, leveling me out until I’m twelve years old, having the best summer of my life, and wanting to prove I’m just as much of an adult as the adults in my life. Sometimes the nostalgia outweighs the chemistry.


I’m sipping coffee as I write this. Just made a fresh pot. I can ignore the negative effects of my habit because I’m addicted, or “dependent”, but also because there’s a certain kind of love and comfort in a cup of coffee (or three) that I haven’t found anywhere else. I’ve talked to people who claim that quitting coffee improved their sleep, their waking hours, their productivity, their bank accounts, their lives. Maybe going cold-turkey would do the same for me. But what’s life without the small pleasures?

This was first posted on: https://www.contena.co/profiles/gabrangray/posts/on-coffee-addiction