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Is coffee a type of drug?

Coffee is one of the most prominent beverages all over the world because of its tangy taste and hard-hitting aroma. I, for one, cannot start my day with a cup of coffee to jumpstart my day.

Others, however, say that they are addicted to coffee and cannot live for a single day without consuming it.

Can it really be true? Let's find out if you can develop a coffee addiction.

The Power Behind Coffee

Coffee is a huge source of biologically active compounds that produce benefits to your overall health, such as boosting weight loss, protecting your heart, stabilizing your mood, and keeping you alert and energized. This is due to its high content in antioxidants, polyphenols, and caffeic acids.

However, it also contains caffeine, the main reason we feel energized and awake. However, you must know that caffeine is classified as a psychoactive drug because it stimulates our nervous system.

So, can coffee really have addiction issues?

Caffeine's Journey to the Brain

To fully understand how caffeine leads to dependency and a potential addictive disorder, we must explain the chemical processes that occur in your body. When we consume coffee, caffeine practically passes through the inner layer of your mouth, throat, and stomach and enters into your bloodstream. This can occur from the first drink. As caffeine circulates through your bloodstream, some of it is broken down by your liver, but the majority of it reaches your brain.

Caffeine produces its stimulating effect by blocking a neurotransmitter or chemical called adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that plays a role in your sleep and wake cycle. When adenosine attaches to its receptor, it reduces your metabolism and causes your brain cells to enter a calm state. Thus, it induces drowsiness and relaxation that causes you to fall asleep. Its receptor is basically a lock on your brain cells that unlocks when adenosine attaches.

Now, caffeine has a similar structure as adenosine and can also attach to this receptor, blocking adenosine and boosting your brain's activity and keeps you awake.

Caffeine and Dopamine Interaction

cup of coffee with drawing a brain on a paper

How does this lead to addiction? Adenosine also regulates dopamine, a chemical known as the "pleasure inducer". Whenever you feel a happy sensation or encounter a pleasurable experience, your brain releases dopamine to reinforce the excitement and make it last longer.

However, your body adapts and learns to produce dopamine every time you come across with that specific event. It is basically a reward system where your body releases dopamine whenever you repeat a certain action.

For dopamine to produce pleasurable feelings, it must also attach to a receptor, but it is unable to do when adenosine is present. When adenosine binds to its receptor, it blocks dopamine from connecting to its receptor.

However, caffeine doesn't produce this barrier like adenosine does, permitting dopamine to bind to its receptor and produce pleasant sensations. For this reason, we feel pleasant and delighted when we drink coffee. Caffeine indirectly increases dopamine release and our body learns that we will have pleasant feelings every time we consume coffee.

Our Body's Tolerance to Caffeine

Initially, your body will experience a sense of happiness and well-being whenever you drink coffee because of the effect of dopamine. However, after repeated consumption, your body will stop feeling the same effects because it adapts to the amount of coffee you drink.

Your brain readjust your body by reducing the production of dopamine and its receptors. These modifications also occur with illegal and recreational drugs, which is known as tolerance.

Due to the fact that your body doesn't feel the same thrilling experiences, dopamine increases your desire and motivates you to drink more coffees so you can recover the same feeling once again.

From this point forward, a never-ending cycle begins where you will increase your coffee consumption over time to produce the pleasant sensations your body felt when you drank your first cup of coffee. If you feel the need to drink coffee to experience pleasant feelings, you are now dependent on coffee.

Is Coffee Addiction a Fact?

woman with addiction in a coffee

Why did I say that you have a coffee dependency, but not a coffee addiction? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a drug addiction (commonly referred to as a substance use disorder) is a disease that affects a person's brain and behavior, where he or she cannot control her urges and has a negative impact on the quality of life, pertaining relationships, work, and social interaction. Some people even harm other people or themselves to obtain that specific substance.

Fortunately, coffee (specifically the caffeine) doesn't apply to that extent. Yes, you will have a desire to drink it and will probably increase your daily consumption, but it will not interfere with your personal relationships or work. It will not be the only thing on your mind and it is highly doubtful that you will reach extreme measures to acquire a cup of coffee. You are not addicted to coffee; however, you do depend on coffee.

Coffee Withdrawal

It may have occurred to you that once in a while, you feel anxious, uncomfortable, and suffer from a random headache, but you have no idea what causes it. You drink water, eat a plentiful meal, sleep, and even exercise, but it doesn't go away until you drink a cup of coffee. Well, my friend, you have just experienced a coffee withdrawal.

This happens when you abruptly eliminate coffee from your daily habits or are trying to reduce its consumption. Basically, your body has a strong desire to consume it and it makes you physically sick. You may experience headaches, fatigue, mood swings, anxiety, and difficulty to concentrate.

It normally occurs within the first 24 hours of eliminating coffee and can last for one week. To cope with these symptoms, you have to decrease gradually your coffee intake and make smart choices. You can mix decaffeinate coffee to dilute progressively your coffee and drink more water. It is also advised to have a well-rested sleep and a nutritious diet.

According to the Dietary Guidelines, it is recommended to consume less than 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is equal to approximately 3-4 cups. Remember that coffee does offer a huge variety of health benefits, so it is best to drink it in moderation to avoid coffee dependency and withdrawal.


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