Is Coffee a Drug? – My Relationship with Coffee & Why I Quit

I stopped drinking coffee. Here's why.I love coffee.

I love the rich, soothing smell of it wafting from the kitchen early in the morning. I love the first sip of it from a mug on cold winter days that snakes gently through my body, filling my bones with a comforting warmth. I love the first sip of it iced from a straw on summer mornings that sets with certainty an energized tone for what surely will be a great day. I love the ritual of coffee. Methodically preparing it at home; measuring out the grounds and water just how I like; the satisfying click of the silver BREW button that sets into motion the best part of my morning. I love ordering a cup at spots around the city. Sitting in a sunny corner by a street-facing window, sipping and working at my laptop while the coffee shop buzzes around me. I simply adore coffee.

And it’s been 83 days since I’ve had a cup.

My Relationship with Coffee

As much as I love this black liquid, I’ve always had a feeling that I shouldn’t be drinking it. I don’t mean to imply coffee is categorically bad–everyone’s body is different and responds differently to caffeine/coffee–but for me it felt like a bad habit right from the start. One of those “I should probably stop but…” guilty indulgences.

I’ve always been really sensitive to caffeine. The first time I drank a Red Bull in high school, I convinced myself it was laced with something because I was profusely sweating, jittery, anxious and swore I was having heart palpitations. I didn’t drink my first cup of coffee until college, and even then it wasn’t a regular habit because of how terrible I’d feel. I’d order the smallest cup available at the coffee shop with the intent of staying up late to study and would become so jittery and anxious I could barely even get any work completed. And even if I drank just a small cup first thing in the morning, my sleep that night would be all messed up. Nope, coffee was not for me.

Yet when I got my first real corporate job after college, I fell into the habit of drinking it regularly. I’d have a cup on my way to work and then not be able to sleep that night. So then I’d be tired the next morning and reach for a coffee to help me wake up. And then because of that I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. This terrible cycle had me hooked. With time, my body adjusted and got used to the coffee and it no longer affected my sleep. This also meant that I no longer got that fun caffeine buzz when I drank a cup which bummed me out. I couldn’t increase my intake because more than a cup a day gives me a stomach ache, so I decided I’d stop drinking it for a while and then limit myself to only a couple days a week so that when I did drink coffee, I could get a noticeable caffeine high.

Even at the time, I was self aware enough to realize that that behavior and thinking was reason enough to say BOY BYE to coffee.

Whoaaa was quitting harder than I thought. The first time I went off it, I was shocked at how much the caffeine withdrawals kicked me in the ass (I was only having one cup a day!!). I was exhausted at work to the point where I contemplated taking a nap in my car during my lunch break, and I had a dull, persistent headache for two straight days. I couldn’t focus, I was lethargic–I felt terrible. I’d say it took a solid three or four days to feel normal without coffee–and when I did, it was pretty damn glorious to not be dependent on a drink to feel energized in the morning.

The past six years or so have been a cycle of drinking coffee every day, quitting it and hating life for three days, then being coffee-free for a couple weeks before caving and drinking it again.

Would I ever actually quit for good? Did it even matter?

For every article or study on the reasons why you should stop drinking coffee, you can find one touting its health benefits. The information out there can be confusing–is coffee good or bad for you? I’m going to get deeper into this in tomorrow’s post, but as with most things, I think it really depends on the person. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to health because we’re all so different. For me, I’ve always had this gut feeling (literally and figuratively) that coffee is not good for me and my body. 

On December 13, 2016, I drank my last cup, a large iced coffee with almond milk from Dunkin Donuts at around 5:15AM as I walked to the North End to teach my morning classes at Btone. I felt “off” that day and had zero appetite, and it wasn’t long before a nasty case of food poisoning fully settled in (I had eaten raw cookie dough the previous day womp wommmp). I spent the whole night curled in the fetal position on my bathroom floor, and in the days following could barely stomach plain foods, let alone an acidic cup of coffee. I felt so ill from the food poisoning that I barely even noticed or differentiated the caffeine withdrawal symptoms from my overall state of sick. Honestly the food poisoning was pretty convenient in this regard and I’m weirdly thankful for it.

As I recovered and began to feel better and eat normally again, I had a choice to make. Do I start drinking coffee again? Quitting coffee had been in the back of my mind ever since I started drinking it years ago, and now I had gotten the hardest part out of the way with the caffeine withdrawals, so I decided to stay on the wagon. I was sure of my decision but very wrong about one thing: The hardest part was not out of the way.

Day 83

This is the longest I’ve gone without coffee since I started drinking it years ago and what’s most surprising is how sad I was about it (and still am, but to a much lesser extent). It’s like I lost touch with a best friend or my dog died. This thing that I would go to bed looking forward to enjoying the next morning was now gone … yet still there. Coffee is everywhere. Joe still brews it in the morning before heading to work and often there’s some leftover in the pot when I get home from teaching, still warm and just sitting there ready for me. I pass my favorite coffee shops every day while walking around the city. I live above a mother effing Dunkin Donuts.

During the first month without coffee, I almost caved every other day. The thought of never having coffee again was so sad and overwhelming that I had to really switch my focus and take it not even one day at a time but one decision at a time. I’m not going to have a cup right nowI can get through the next hour without coffee. Gradually it got easier to pass up and finally in month three I can say I don’t think about coffee much at all. Still though, writing this post is bringing back so many good memories and I’m starting to miss my BFFAEAE … 

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In addition to the temptations and general sadness, I even had a dream one night about coffee. This was about a month after eliminating it from my daily routine. The dream was nothing extraordinary except for how vivid it was. I was brewing a cup of coffee in my kitchen and then settling down on the couch to enjoy it but IT WAS SO REAL. I could smell it, taste it, feel it hitting my lips. When I woke up, I didn’t know whether to cry or pour myself a cup.

*Neither, for the record.*

I was going to name this post something else, but continually throughout the writing process I found myself thinking, “Damn am I talking about coffee or getting sober??” In no way am I suggesting that quitting coffee for a coffee lover is the same as quitting alcohol or drugs for an alcoholic or addict (I have the upmost respect for the strength it takes to stay sober for those battling addiction!), but it is kinda crazy that parts of this post would still make sense if you replaced “coffee” with the name of a hard drug.

This rambling diary entry of a post is already long AF so I’m going to end it here, but I have another one coming your way tomorrow that’s a bit more focused and constructive. I’m going to talk about the changes I’ve noticed with my body since quitting coffee. All have been positive things and have reinforced my decision to quit in the first place–it was 100% the right choice for me. (Emphasis on “for me“!)

What’s your relationship with coffee like? Can you enjoy it here and there or are you dependent on it? Have you ever tried quitting?

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  1. What timing! Today is Day 1 for me and no coffee. I’ve long since quit caffeine (eleven years ago, I think??), but I still LOVE decaf coffee. However, I’ve been diagnosed with Graves Disease (auto immune disease that causes hyperthyroid) and am trying to heal as much as possible by eliminating inflammatory food and drink. Coffee, even decaf, very unfortunately falls into this category. I’ve resisted for the better part of a year while I worked on other eating habits (goodbye, gluten; goodbye, faithful emotional eating companion sugar)… but it is time. So today is the day I say goodbye to coffee for as long as needed to know whether it’s causing inflammation. I so appreciate your comment about being so very sad to quit coffee… I am close to heartbroken! Thanks for sharing.

  2. I wouldn’t say I NEED coffee, but I love the taste of it. I’m happy drinking decaf, so for me, it’s not really the caffeine that I crave. I just love the bitterness of it in the morning!

  3. I quit about a year ago. I had been a regular coffee drinker since late high school, having had my first cup sometime in grade school. My tolerance varied, and sometimes one cup was enough to make me feel buzzed, other times several cups. After college, I was working a job I truly detested and would occasionally seek refuge at the coffee shop down the street. These afternoon cups made me feel horrible. Headache, stomach ache, anxiety, tired, and unable to get good sleep. I gave up the afternoon cups and was very good about just having my morning cup for a while until about a year or so ago, and I was feeling crummy no matter when I had coffee or if it was decaf. I have also had a few stretches where I just drank decaf. Finally last year, I said, “I’m done”, and have not looked back. I drink a ton of tea now, but limit my 1-2 black/caffeinated teas to the morning. I feel a lot better and have so much more natural energy and deeper sleep. If you’re missing the comfort of the morning cup, just find a lovely tea to drink. My fave in the morning is Earl Grey Double Bergamot by Stash. Yum!

  4. ahh, coffee. I got pregnant last year and I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to stop drinking coffee I even went the route of just doing decaf, but once the baby came I was literally counting down the days that I would stop breast feeding so I can indulge on that full effect of caffeinated coffee : D it didn’t disappoint. I try to only do one cup a day but waking up at 4a to get baby to daycare and me to work, I kind of want more. I hope to kick the habit when I finally start working back out and supplementing for a shake instead. I hope I can even make it close to day 83! Good luck!

  5. Kudos to you for deciding on what’s best for you and sticking to it! That’s some great self discipline! XO – Kim

  6. I had a terrible case of sinusitis this winter and I went a couple of months without coffee. You’re right, the acidic nature of coffee was so off-putting I couldn’t get myself to drink any of it. I’m back to drinking one cup a day. But in those couple of months, it wasn’t so much the taste or smell of coffee that I missed, it was the morning ritual of sitting with a warm cup of coffee and reading the news. Funny thing is, I tried substituting it with tea many times, but it just wasn’t the same. Kudos for sticking with it for so long! 🙂

    • I’ve found the same thing–tea just isn’t the same! There’s something about sitting down at my desk in the morning with a freshly brewed cup of coffee that can’t be replicated with other beverages.

      • Try chai tea with frothed milk. I decided to give up morning coffee on Feb 1 for 30 days just to see how it made me feel, and the chai tea satisfies my urge for something creamy and hot in the mornings. Caffeine doesn’t affect me the way it does you. I was drinking about 4 cups a day, and it never made me feel the way you describe. It truly sounds like a drug for your body.

  7. Jessie R says:

    I’m very caffeine sensitive as well, it makes me feel funny. I do have a cup of green tea in the morning with collagen, but I do love me some iced coffee once in a while :).

  8. I’ve never actually had a cup of coffee… Lets say that listening to classmates and teachers in college talk about the insane withdrawals they were going through was enough to say, there’s something wrong there and not something I want to ever deal with. I have other addictions, esp. sugar, that I’m dealing with so I’m happy to stay away.

  9. YES YES and YES! Ok, substitute the word “Coke” for coffee… and I am 100% with you. “Hello darkness my old friend!” and yet it is NOT good for me on so many levels. I’ve quit before, sometime for months.. and ended up back on it. I’m weaning off now… so afraid of setting off full-blown migraines that I’m taking it slow, but tomorrow may be day #1 of no-Coke status. I MUST MUST MUST stop because of health issues… and yet the siren call of that devil’s brew is intoxicating. Nothing else on this earth is like Coke for me, no other cola type of drink comes close. And yes… I have often thought that if something like Coke can have such a hold on me that it is a good thing I have never, not once ever, had anything illegal. I’d be hooked after the first time.

  10. I hated coffee until i started a real job too. I’ve recently cut it out, Nov 1st. Except for a rare weekend cup! I feel a lot better. I love lemon water and an occasional caffeniated tea. Caffeinated tea has about half the caffeine as coffee.

  11. thanks for sharing

  12. Interesting! I’ve drank coffee foreverrrr but I never drink it after noon or I have trouble sleeping. I can easily go days without coffee though – I’ve never gotten withdrawal symptoms and I don’t need it in the mornings to function. I do get jittery and anxious if I have too much, especially if I’m already nervous about something (a big meeting, presentation, etc.), so I avoid it on those days.

  13. Gerri Ackley says:

    I have been on the same journey, right now I am at “I know the next time I quit, it will be for good” so I am still contemplating. This post is very helpful to know yup, it’s going to be like a death of a friend, divorce, which is very sad that a drink has this much control:) I do love it, the taste, the smell. I also know it is no good for me. Thank you!

  14. ahhhhh coffee.. This post hit it on the hammer for me. Im one of those people who Im sure gets more of a buzz from the amount of sugar/creamer in my coffee.. and having a 2 month old son I automatically wake up groggily reaching for a cup.. but I noticed that I just fel off everytime I drank it, which then turned into not even finishing a cup. So I recently quit drinking it a couple weeks ago, and instead drink a cup of green tea with cinnamon and agave nectar. I feel soooo much better, and now wake up refreshed and happy!! =] Ill be writing a post about my jorney with coffee 2morrow, and why I chose green tea Im sure you would probably enjoy it!!

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