I’ve been on and off coffee for about half a year at this point. Most recently I went through very bad withdrawals after quitting (again) about 2 weeks ago.
The reason I quit this last time, and have become completely convinced that coffee is an overall net-negative for almost anyone, is because I did some research outside of the box. The research has also been backed up with testimonials and my own experience, which I will get to in this post.
As I share this information with you, I will probably rub up against commonly held beliefs about coffee–many of which are misconceptions–, so before proceeding to pass off my information because it doesn’t fit society’s current paradigm, let’s remember that addicts will do and say anything to get their drug, especially when they are not even aware that it is a drug.
This leads me to my first line of argument; trying to make people aware of their own experiences.
What initially sparked my want to be free of coffee was reading Nikola Tesla’s biography, My Inventions. Tesla mentions both caffeine and nicotine as being bad for your thoughts, at least in so far as it regards inventing stuff.
This got me thinking that perhaps coffee is simply bad for your thoughts overall. I began realizing that coffee had an effect on my thought process–not just my mood. I had noticed that my thoughts were a bit faster than usual, but upon examining them further, I noticed that they weren’t necessarily of the same calibre as my non-caffeinated, slower thoughts. It’s not a drastic difference, but it’s there.
I have had a similar experience with amphetamine, which also happens to be a central nervous system stimulant, just like coffee. Of course, amphetamine has a much more prominent effect than coffee.
In short: you get a lot done, but it’s not quality work. (You don’t actually get more done in the long run, but we’ll get to that. And this regards coffee, too.)
The reason I think most people don’t see this is because coffee (like amphetamine) increases dopamine in the brain, so you feel happy. When you feel good you are less likely to question your performance critically enough to see whether it’s better or downright dishevelled. Of course, feeling good has a beneficial effect, but not in the long run (as I will explain.)
The second part which makes it difficult to reasonably assess whether coffee is good or bad is time. Time can reveal a lot; if we spread our analysis out over longer periods of time we can come to diametrically opposed conclusions compared to when we only analyse a short period of time. Coffee is nice in the short run but eventually the habit catches up with you. And just like any other drug, it’s painful to quit in the short run. This is why the long run is important to take into account.
This leads me to my second line of argument; nothing is free.
You must try going without coffee (and with coffee) for longer periods of time in order to truly gauge if it is a performance enhancer. This is because the short-term effects will delude you completely, making you happy and content with yourself. It may even boost your performance in the short-term, while some of the long-term effects may completely bog you down and make you realize that you are worse at performing on coffee.
Let’s say that you just recently started drinking coffee. Your body hasn’t adapted to the caffeine yet, so the coffee still makes you feel awake, and you don’t need much of it to get a kick. You also feel more productive while on it–and happy!
What eventually happens is that your body will become accustomed to the caffeine, and the coffee will only help maintain a state of “normalcy”.
During this latter phase, both I and Alex Becker estimate that you will lose ~20% of your overall productivity as a result. This is an estimate, of course, but it goes to show that both Alex and I have had a similar loss of productivity with caffeine.
You see the same results with any drug. You will need more and more to get the same effect, and very quickly you become completely dependent upon the drug just in order to stave off depression/withdrawals because NOTHING IS FREE. NOT MONEY, NOT FOOD, NOTHING.
This leads me to my third, and final, point; homeostasis.
Your body always wants to level out to normal levels. If you pump yourself full of caffeine it will give you:
1. Dopamine, the feel good chemical.
2. Adrenaline, regulating visceral functions.
3. Cortisol, the stress hormone.
4. Caffeine, the chemical blocking your adenosine receptors/”sleep-receptors” in the brain.
Once you’ve pumped your body full of these ingredients, it will try to regulate itself back to a state of normalcy through 2 different ways.
1. Your body will try blocking the incoming chemicals (like dopamine,) making you LESS RECEPTIVE to such chemicals.
2. It will grow MORE adenosine receptors because it’s clogged with caffeine, making you very, very sleepy unless you get your cup of joe.
And here’s what cortisol can do to you. In short, it can cause memory loss and weight gain. Of course… we’ve all heard that caffeine is great for staving off alzheimer’s, haven’t we? I wouldn’t be quick to jump to conclusions either way. Stimulating the nervous system may help, while the cortisol does the opposite very opposite.
And there’s that. Coffee is absolutely a drug, and should be viewed as such. Now I’m aware that there are certain articles out there which list amazing benefits of coffee. Personally, I don’t believe it. I believe it sounds like a bunch of addicts desperately trying to hold on to their beloved drug. Either way, my point is not to disprove whether coffee reduces suicide rates in women by 50% or reduces alzheimer’s by 65% (both numbers sound WAY too high to be true.)
My point is simply to point out that coffee is a drug. It’s certainly not the worst drug to be addicted to, but I think many people would benefit greatly from not drinking it. Is it possible that coffee possesses seemingly magical abilities to cure mental illness by extraordinary numbers. Sure, it’s possible. Curing depression with mountains of cocaine may also be possible.