You may have heard that over 50 percent of people would choose coffee over sex in the morning. And if you’re a caffeine addict, that statistic makes total sense to you. Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug—boosting memory, concentration, focus, and even your endurance during a workout. (There’s a slew of new ways to get it, too, including caffeinated water, chewing gum, seeds, beef jerky, and potato chips.)
But there’s a difference between having a coffee, diet coke, or Red Bull crutch, and being a full-blown caffeine junkie. “We call it Caffeine Dependence Disorder (a new term added to the DSM-5) and it refers to someone who wants to quit caffeine but can’t stop, and experiences withdrawal symptoms when they don’t get a fix,” says Mary Sweeney, Ph.D., a Research Fellow at the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Are You an Addict?
If you suffer from headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or a depressed mood when you miss your morning Joe or don’t have time for an afternoon soda run, your body may be more reliant on the stimulant than you thought. And if conditions like acid reflux, anxiety, or high blood pressure become aggravated by caffeine, your body could benefit from topping off a little less often.
How Much is Too Much?
Everyone’s tolerance for caffeine varies, which explains why your mom might get the jitters from a half cup of coffee while your brother can pound four Red Bulls and still take a nap. Quick science lesson: when caffeine enters the body, it breaks into three different molecules that block adenosine in the brain (those receptors in charge of slowing down nerve activity), putting you into overdrive. But the more coffee you drink, the more adenosine receptors you build, which is why some people form a tolerance to java and have a hard time quitting. Height, weight, age, and genetics all play into how sensitive you are to the stuff, too. As a general rule, experts say most people should cap their caffeine intake at 400mg a day, or around the amount you’d find in two small coffees.
For those who dream of having their caffeine administered through an IV drip, cutting back can be tough, but not impossible. “Reduce your intake by 25 percent a week, and you likely won’t feel any withdrawal symptoms,” says Sweeney. Try making your second cup of coffee decaf (which can still have up to 20 mg of caffeine), or switch over to herbal tea in the afternoon. And don’t forget to watch out for sneaky sources of caffeine in places like dark chocolate or some OTC meds. A dose of Excedrin has the same amount of caffeine as a strong cup of coffee.