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2012/06/01

My Caffeine Addiction

To the right is a picture of me in my office in 2009. I took it and like it because it has me with my preferred drink, Diet Coke.

In the 80s, I drank Mountain Dew and Mello Yello on occasion, and in the years since, I've put energy drinks and the like to my lips, but more often than not, when given a choice, I would go for the old standard.

Of all the addictive substances out there, caffeine addiction is the least harmful and the most socially accepted. You wouldn't expect a bar or a bong or a communal crack-pipe to be at the center of an office, but there is a coffeemaker. For some workplaces, an always-full cola fridge is one of the perks. Here's the Oatmeal on how coffee works in historical, economical and physical senses, here's C.G.P Grey's video on "the Greatest Addiction Ever", and here's Cracked on how caffeine gives you super-powers. Everybody loves caffeine.

Geeks especially love caffeine. Jolt was the geek drink with the phrase "All the sugar and twice the caffeine". Drinks have been judged by relative levels of caffeine. ThinkGeek has a category of Caffeine and Edibles which includes energy drinks, caffeinated mints and gum, and even caffeinated body wash. I don't know that caffeine is absorbed through the skin, but I understand the attraction. I wondered often when I was a Comp Sci student why more geeks take the next step from caffeine worship and just become speed freaks.

Last year, I decided that I've heard enough about caffeine to think, "Hey, I don't believe any of the scurrilous things they're saying about the magic bean, but I can't really say anything about it without trying to live without." Also, I was noticing headaches on Sunday, which seemed to come from not drinking any coffee or soda on Saturdays. So, I decided that I would have a month-long caffeine fast during the month of May.

May 1 was a Sunday, and I play guitar at church, and we talk in the church cafe during first service, and I always get a cappuccino, and I didn't think "no caffeine" until I was half done.

May 2 was the day we returned a rental car we got because of a car accident, and before I dropped it off, I stopped by McDonalds for breakfast, and what do I always get with my egg-burger every time I go to McDonalds for breakfast? A large Diet Coke. And I was again half done with the beverage before I said "Hey, wait."

This really put in mind what we mean by a habit. An addiction is when you mentally or physically need something to function, but a habit is an indication of behavior, what you do without thinking about it. I clearly did not think about what my beverage of choice was. Any thought about what I should be drinking came halfway into the process of drinking the beverage.

May 3, I remembered. I started the fast in earnest. I drank no caffeine. I felt okay.

May 4, in the midst of the horror, when I turned off my office lights and turned down the brightness of my monitors so my eyes would stop screaming, and filled my trash box with tissues filled with mucus and tears while breathing deeply in hopes that the cold air will still my nausea, my co-worker looked over and said "If you have the flu, you should just go home."

This is where it struck me.

This is where it struck me that regular doses of caffeine had left me reliant on caffeine, and when I don't imbibe it, my brain explodes.

This is the point where I decided to cut it out when I could. And I discovered that, to some extent, I can't get going with programming — my work, my hobby, my love — without juicing it up first. I wasn't sure and I'm still not whether this should be considered addiction or habit, but I recognized it as something, so, I decided to go by the rules of coffee at work but nothing after 5pm, and when I took vacation over Christmas, I went cold turkey again, but with few ill effects because I wasn't riding on a near-constant cloud of stimulation.

I'm not saying that everyone should clean up like I did. But you should consider. At the very least, you should keep some headroom so you can jolt up if you need to.