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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

3 Keys to Beating My Addiction: Caffeine

Last week I decided that I wanted to stop drinking caffeinated coffee and diet soda with caffeine as well.

I realize that caffeine in moderate amounts actually has been proven to have healthful benefits for a variety of nasty disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and some types of cancer, but I still needed to stop.

The problem was, that I couldn't drink the stuff in moderation. Each day, I would practically polish off a pot of coffee by myself before heading to work during my morning reading time - leaving enough in the pot for the wife if she happened to feel like a cup that day.

At work, I would then easily have two more cups throughout the day and at least three 20 ozs. bottles of diet Coke or Pepsi.

My addiction to all things caffeine started after college with my first job as a morning radio news anchor, where I would single-handedly finish a pot between 5-9am each day. Then at each subsequent newsroom I worked at for the next 10 years, my blood caffeine level probably hovered around a 50-50 split - I may be  exaggerating on that last bit but it's safe to say I was hooked. That is until last week.

My wife and girls were visiting friends, and I had to work, so I decided it was a good time to see if I could shake the caffeinated monkey off my back.

It's been a week now, and during that stretch I've had three cups of de-caffeinated Joe - that may not sound like quitting to you but it's monumental to me. And it wasn't easy. I had pounding headaches from the base of my neck across the top of my skull for three solid days - not fun.

That symptom clearly showed I had a physical dependence on the stuff - not good.

I can only imagine what withdrawal is like for someone trying to kick harder substances or alcohol. Regardless, here are the three things I've learned that were instrumental:

1. Ritual - aside from consuming the coffee there's the ritual of making it and smelling it brew. I found that if I change the ritual, specifically walking on the treadmill while I do my morning reading, it helped break the cycle of addiction for me.

2. Association - we've had house guests and friends who have a pot of coffee brewing 24/7 with the previous pot refrigerated for cold coffee. I loved that but it fed my ready addiction - in an evening I could easily down three 32 oz. jugs of cold coffee. No more. Going forward when we have these folks over I'll have to plan in advance and gain their support of my new, under-caffeinated lifestyle.

3. Locations - despite this freedom from caffeine, I find that a week after breaking the cycle I'm leery of entering a Starbucks because the temptation might be too strong for me to resist "one innocent cup." Don't laugh, but for now I'll have to steer clear of coffee houses and shops it seems.

I'm not saying coffee is evil. I love coffee, but once I assessed my dependency on it I knew something had to change.

Question: Have you ever had to quit something that was a challenge for you to quit?

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