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But first, coffee.

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

But first, coffee.

Caffeine has become such a normal part of our daily routines. And lately, the question arises, is this a good thing?

Sure, caffeine is not nearly as dangerous as certain drugs or alcohol, but when consumed in large quantities over an extended period of time, it can take a toll. Recent controversy, particularly with a new energy drink called "Cocaine" is controversial in name and in its dangerously high amounts of caffeine. In recovery, we are trying to take exceptional care and attention to what we put into and keep out of our bodies. We need to consider what we are consuming in place of what we are trying to avoid. Does one vice outweigh the other?

Nearly everyone in recovery drinks coffee. It’s a fixture at AA meetings, along with pastries and nicotine. It’s commonly said that coffee is just one way recovering alcoholics replace their addiction to alcohol, but is that all it is? There may be some good reasons for drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks in recovery while there may also be some good reasons to not.

The Good:

Coffee helps people feel better making them more alert and able to better concentrate. Depression, insomnia, fatigue, and poor concentration are common early in recovery, so coffee may help with these symptoms. This helps us justify an extra cup or two to help stay alert and focused. 

Coffee is a decent replacement. If you are used to having a drink in your hand, you might feel better with coffee or an energy drink in hand to ease that awkward missing something feeling. And, instead of going for a drink, you can meet for coffee or tea making caffeine an ideal substitute.

Coffee may help protect against disease. Studies have shown that coffee may offer some protection against various diseases such as reducing the risk of liver cancer by 50%, which for quite a few of us is significant in recovery. It has also been shown to reduce the risk of mouth and throat cancer and reduce risk of stroke. Further, it boosts memory and improves concentration perhaps lowering risks of diseases such as Alzheimer's.

The Bad:

Well, there are some cons with caffeine. Anything in excess isn’t usually ideal.

Caffeine breeds anxiety. It essentially amplifies the mechanisms that cause anxiety, so if your anxiety has gone through the roof since getting sober, try cutting down on the caffeine. "Caffeine exaggerates the stress response," says James D. Lane, PhD, professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and a long-time caffeine researcher. "At the cellular level, caffeine locks the receptor normally used by adenosine, a brain modulator that provides feedback to avoid overstimulation of nerve cells. If adenosine is locked up, nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level."

In excess, you can become dependent on caffeine and without it can have withdrawals. People joke about being hooked on caffeine, but is it truly addictive? Researchers have debated that question for years. Does a less dangerous addictive substance outweigh the other?

Caffeine is hard on the heart. It boosts blood pressure, the risk of heart disease, heart arrhythmia, palpitations, and blood glucose levels. Multiple energy drinks mixed with physical activity can be dangerous and has resulted in heart attacks in some severe cases.

Soft drinks and energy drinks daily can decrease bone mineral density particularly in women. Many diet pills include caffeine and while this appeals to many, is an extremely unhealthy way to lose weight as caffeine stints appetite.

Lastly, caffeine can make it much harder to sleep if large amounts were consumed throughout the day or close to heading to bed. If you're early in recovery and frequently have trouble sleeping already, the three cups of coffee just before bed won’t help. If you’re a few months into recovery and your sleep still hasn’t improved, try consuming less caffeine, or at least set a deadline in the early afternoon.

So, there are definitely some positives and negatives to caffeine consumption, particularly in recovery. The topic is still out for debate and it is unlikely caffeine consumption will slide, but we all have to ask ourselves, are we dependent on it, and if so, how much is too much?

What are your thoughts? Share them below!

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