Coffee and Cigarettes

I remember when I stopped drinking caffeine for the first time: it was March 2013 and directly after I found out that I was about 6 weeks pregnant (unfortunately that one didn’t work out).  I went through some caffeine withdrawal for about 2 weeks and then it went away.  After a month of no coffee (I had been drinking 3-4 espresso per day) I had a latte to see how it would go, and I hated it – the smell was awesome and always has been, but the taste was not good.  So, I had kicked the habit and went for almost 5 years thereafter without having any coffee or caffeinated tea.

The pregnancy was my trigger to quit in 2013, but the real reason that was underlying it all was the fact that when I had coffee I felt jacked-up and out of control.  I had racing-heart, higher levels of nervous stress (I was already in a seriously stressful job, so this added stressor wasn’t good for me), and I made this weird throat noise associated with my stress (like a scratching noise that I seemed to have zero control over, despite the fact that I was physically making the noise).

I have recently allowed myself to drink coffee again, frankly because I wanted to have something delicious as a treat now that I’ve given up all the things I would otherwise have considered an indulgence.  So, yesterday, I went to my favourite coffee shop and had an almond milk latte (so seriously good) and then I decided, in my happiness at the awesome morning I was having with my family, that I would throw caution to the wind and have a second one.  Seemed like a harmless decision.  However, a full 5 hours and a lunch after this second coffee, my heart was racing, my fingers were shaking, I was making my stressed throat noise, I was talking at light-speed, and I felt completely out of control of my mind and body.  Finally, with time, copious amounts of water, and some wholesome food, the feeling subsided and I’m back to normal.

What shocks me though is that the effect of the caffeine can be so intense and also so delayed and that it has such a massive impact on my body function.  I then look this up on Wikipedia and here’s the opening statement about caffeine:

Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant of the methylxanthine class.[10] It is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. Unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world. There are several known mechanisms of action to explain the effects of caffeine. The most prominent is that it reversibly blocks the action of adenosine on its receptor and consequently prevents the onset of drowsiness induced by adenosine. Caffeine also stimulates certain portions of the autonomic nervous system.

I’m sorry, it’s a psychoactive drug….!?  That sounds so serious and, based on another click of my mouse and a brief read, it is, or at least it is potentially…!

psychoactive drugpsychopharmaceutical, or psychotropic is a chemical substance that changes brain function and results in alterations in perceptionmoodconsciousness or behavior.

Psychoactive substances often bring about subjective (although these may be objectively observed) changes in consciousness and mood that the user may find rewarding and pleasant (e.g., euphoria or a sense of relaxation) or advantageous (e.g. increased alertness) and are thus reinforcing. Substances which are both rewarding and positively reinforcing have the potential to induce a state of addiction – compulsive drug use despite negative consequences.

Now, clearly caffeine isn’t the worst psychoactive when the list contains everything from cocaine to LSD to cannabis.  But, I guess, for me at least, this is a bit of a reminder that as a substance, caffeine is not to be trifled with and that I should consider my engagement with it as a more of an occasional thing.

When I was young (at University) and pretty daft (although I thought of myself as sophisticated and full of wisdom), I took up smoking because I thought it was cool and most of my friends did it, so cheers to peer pressure…..  I remember the first couple of weeks of smoking and the racing-heart and light-headed feeling I got when I took the first few drags on a cigarette, it was exhilarating and a little scary too, but I persisted and of course as time goes by this exciting feeling doesn’t happen because you’re used to it.  At that point, as a rational person, I should have asked myself why bother continuing its use when there’s no fun feeling from it any more – it’s like going on a roller coaster for the thrill of the ride and then still getting on it when it’s stationary…..  Anyway, my point is that I’m dumb and also that the feeling I got from the nicotine is really not unlike the feeling I get from a large (to me) dose of caffeine, such as that experienced yesterday.

I’ve decided I don’t like the feeling – I like to be in control and to have my body function as I expect and within the parameters of my normality.  I’m therefore restricting myself to 1 shot of espresso a week, to be served in a delicious almond milk latte.  After all, it’s supposed to be a treat, not a habit-forming addiction.

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