The Caffeine Cycle: Quitting Again

Here’s what the cycle looks like. I become, as I am now, frustrated with the dependence on caffeine. It has long since stopped benefiting me, giving me more energy than I would have by default. There is, perhaps, an increase in focus, though it is outweighed by the persistent exhaustion and the need to chug 20, even 30, ounces of coffee to feel human. Then you add in the way it messes with my digestion, disconnects me from my appetite, and leaves me irritable when I crash.

So I decide I will go through the detox process for it. Let it work its way out of my system. What is actually happening, I understand, is that adenosene receptors are dying off. The caffeine has blocked these receptors — which, un-blocked, would lead to general daily tiredness — but has done so for so long that my body realized something was off. It was supposed to be getting adenosene, but it wasn’t. So it grew more receptors trying to get the amount it expected. As a result, when no caffeine was blocking the receptors, I was getting far more adenosene — and thus fatigue — than I would be default.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on how this brain chemistry stuff works. I have a rudimentary understanding at best. But I do know that, when I choose to quit, I’m hellishly exhausted for the first few days. The worst day is the second, which usually accompanies the exhaustion with a killer migraine, sometimes so intense that I vomit. By the end of the first three days or so, the really shitty part is over. But it’s not until five days, seven days, ten days pass that I start to feel like I am on the upswing.

It’s about two weeks, I’ve found, before I feel normal again. And this is a superior normal, not the normal of caffeine dependency. So it feels worth it.

This caffeine-free state will last me a week, a few weeks, maybe even a few of months. And what inevitably happens is that I have some big project or deadline on the horizon, so — with caffeine now serving its maximum function again — I binge to get through. Which works. I’m immensely productive for that first re-caffeinated week. And then I use caffeine to stay afloat for longer, and it stops having the effectiveness, and I start to feel tire all the time, and it’s not convenient to go through a week or two of caffeine detox at just that moment so I put it off.

I put it off for a week, a few weeks, maybe even a few months. The last time I re-started caffeine was in early to mid August, if memory serves.

I’m tired of the cycle, but in all honesty I have somewhat resigned myself to it over the long term. I have cycled through a few dozen times over the last few years, and while it’s not ideal it serves its purposes. Right now, I am choosing to quit — exact timeline pending — because I can’t evaluate how a wheat-free diet impacts my energy if my energy is dictated by caffeine dependency. I am choosing to quit because the anti-inflammatory medicine I’m on can mess with my digestion, but I’ll never be able to figure just how much it’s doing so if my stomach is constantly a bit spun due to the large quantities of coffee. I am choosing to quit because it’s about time. I’m at that point in the cycle.

I’ve tried weaning off before, by the way. It’s harder. I spend longer exhausted. I like the brutality of cold turkey better, for all its flaws. So, if I can make my responsibilities orbit around it right, I’ll be quitting caffeine as of now. My Sunday night off will be the night of the extraordinary headache. And I’ll lose much of what I would have normally done over this next week. But then I’ll be free of it — and can, once pressures arise again, succumb to that siren call of coffee to blitz through a barrier.