The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) earlier this month released a new definition of addiction. This applies to cup o’ Joe addicts as well. Got caffeine addiction? Here’s how to break the habit…


The ASAM now defines addiction as a chronic brain disorder. Whether it’s caffeine or illicit drugs or gambling or sex, addiction’s roots are not a behavioral, psychological or emotional problem; it’s a problem with your noggin’s wiring.


If you’re addicted to several cups of coffee per day or other caffeinated drinks, in non-scientific terms, what you’re doing is feeding the brain’s reward circuitry. Constantly feeding your caffeine addiction is like giving your brain reward circuitry, or so-called neuronal ‘pleasure centers,’ a constant workout.


But the reality is, when you’re drinking, say, 10 cups of coffee per day, you’re not providing your pleasure centers of the brain with actual pleasure; you’re merely feeding your brain’s “wanting or motivation to obtain the stimulation,” according to a study by psychologists at the University of Michigan.


Why should you try to break the caffeine addiction? Excessive caffeine intake can lead to several health problems, including:


  • Severe adrenal stress
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability or mood disorders

The first step in breaking the caffeine habit is to respect the ritual

Do you habitually fork over $5 for that venti caramel frappuccino with whipped cream on top? Would you feel off your rocker if you didn’t pop in the local coffee shop today? If you want to break the caffeine habit, you should continue to visit your favorite coffee house. You can simultaneously feed your brain’s motivation to obtain the stimulation and slowly wean yourself off of coffee.


If your caffeine addiction has you dropping in to the Starbucks more than once a day, opt for herbal tea in the afternoon, or, to wean yourself off coffee more carefully, opt for green tea instead, as green tea has less caffeine than regular coffee.


If part of your caffeine ritual involves sipping out of your favorite coffee mug, by all means, continue your nightly ritual, but do try to replace your coffee with a relaxing tea like chamomile. If you have problems shutting your mind off at night and falling asleep, switching to an herbal beverage may help you relax and enjoy a more restful night sleep.


Should I quit cold turkey?

You may not want to quit your caffeine consumption cold turkey. This could lead to nasty withdrawal symptoms, including strong headaches. If you experience strong headaches, try weaning yourself off of caffeine over a week or two-week period by diluting your caffeinated beverage with water. Many people, though, can quit cold turkey without experiencing any side effects.


Acupuncture can help with withdrawal symptoms. But in the end, do try to limit yourself to one to two cups of coffee maximum per day.


Too much caffeine is poisonous for the body. Here’s how to detox.

If you haven’t exercised lately, consider getting back into it. Even a 30-minute brisk walk can reward the brain’s pleasure center in other ways, possibly suppressing its desire to be rewarded with caffeine. Exercise and drinking plenty of water can help flush out toxins from the body.


Excessive caffeine can acidify blood pH balance. You’ll want to alkalize by eating lots of vegetables, especially green, leafy ones.


Supplements, especially Vitamin C, can restore depleted nutrients and may help with withdrawal symptoms.


Trace mineral supplementation is also highly encouraged and will help to naturally restore your cells’ energy supply.


Eat at least three meals and one snack every day, containing all-natural foods with all three macronutrients (protein; low-starch carbs and vegetables; natural fat), spaced at four-hour intervals (8 a.m.; noon; 4 p.m.; 8 p.m.) to keep energy levels rock-steady throughout the day.


Got other solutions to break caffeine addiction? Write a comment below.


Related on MNN: Caffeine withdrawal symptoms


Judd Handler is a health writer and lifestyle coach in Encintias, California.