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  • Writer's pictureClarke Kennedy

Caffeine: A Mainstream Addiction?

Updated: Jul 24, 2021

Why your morning cup of joe can lead to dependence and withdrawal.

According to a poll conducted last year by the Coffee Association of Canada, roughly 71% of Canadians said they drank coffee the day before.[1] This study also found that Canadians drink an average of 2.7 cups of coffee a day – which equals around 250 – 300mg of caffeine. Clearly, Canadians are passionate about their java (Tim Hortons is arguably a part of our country’s cultural identity). You might even be reading this article while drinking a cup of coffee. However, the risks of caffeine addiction are rarely talked about. While caffeine is relatively harmless, it is still a mood-altering drug. So is regular caffeine consumption really a dangerous habit?

While many claim to drink coffee due to its taste, its caffeine content is an undeniable part of its popularity. Our busy schedules and demanding jobs often require us to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. Life’s responsibilities often get in the way of getting a good night’s rest and caffeine offers a quick boost in the morning.

Caffeine helps many of us feel more alert, focused, and motivated by enhancing the neurotransmitter dopamine. Research by the University of Basel has even shown that regular coffee consumption may change the structure of our brain by reducing our volume of gray matter.[2] This study did not determine if this change was negative or positive, but it does indicate the powerful effect caffeine has on the body.

While caffeine has benefits, moderation is always key. With any habit, it can become dangerous when we become dependent on it. There are also dangers surrounding more potent forms of caffeine like energy drinks, pills, and powder. These drinks and substances often are unregulated as there are no age restrictions or caffeine limit on these items. The lethal dose of caffeine is around 10g which can be nearly impossible to consume through coffee alone (it is equivalent to around 70 cups of coffee). The symptoms of excessive caffeine consumption include severe abdominal discomfort, seizures, increased heart rate, and vomiting.[3]

Withdrawal from a caffeine addiction can be rough – migraines, irritability, and loss in concentration are common symptoms.[4] The severity of symptoms depends on how much caffeine the person regularly consumes. Our bodies will build a tolerance to any substance we habitually intake. As we build a tolerance, we need to ingest more caffeine to experience the desired effects.

In most cases, consistently drinking coffee is not a serious problem. Being mindful of how our body is affected by the things we consume can help prevent us from developing unhealthy habits. As long as we don’t need caffeine to function, it shouldn’t be an issue. There is still a debate over caffeine being categorized as an “serious addiction,” but the research indicates it can cause real changes in our body. Caffeine is definitely double-edged sword – it can either enhance or diminish our ability to function at our best. So ask yourself – how does it impact me?

[1] [2] Yu-Shiuan Lin, Janine Weibel, Hans-Peter Landolt, Francesco Santini, Martin Meyer, Julia Brunmair, Samuel M Meier-Menches, Christopher Gerner, Stefan Borgwardt, Christian Cajochen, Carolin Reichert. Daily Caffeine Intake Induces Concentration-Dependent Medial Temporal Plasticity in Humans: A Multimodal Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. Cerebral Cortex, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhab005 [3] James, J. E. (2012). Death by caffeine: how many caffeine-related fatalities and near-misses must there be before we regulate?. [4]

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