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Caffeine addiction

Caffeine addiction
2/7/10 7:11 AM
Ugh. I'm so totally addicted to coffee. Tried to sit this morning without drinking the stuff and could barely concentrate at all. I want to kick caffeine without making a big deal out of the effort. Experientially, though, not having it really sucks! Just curious--does anyone have any opinion about the effects of this substance on the bioenergetic process? Is it detrimental, neutral or perhaps even helpful on some level (i.e. sharpens concentration)?

RE: Caffeine addiction
2/7/10 8:42 AM as a reply to J Groove.
I know what you're talking about. Here's some thoughts... My sense is that caffiene focuses the thinking mind but really doesn't improve creativity. It seems better able to weigh/discriminate between symbols but not create them. I feel like overall it hurts meditation progress, but certainly doesn't stop it. That's my sense, it's hard to say for sure. Sounds like alot of the burmese/thai monestaries had spitoons everywhere, probably for some kind of alkaloid-type drug.

For what it's worth, here's my method for kicking the beast. I think the only way to go is through gradual withdrawl, but while also knowing that at some point in the detox, you have to kick it. Also knowing that all the symptoms (depression, despair, aches, craving) are just what coffee is creating to make you drink it again, not anything perminant. And finally knowing that it's the nature of the mind to adapt -- now you need coffee to feel normal (like any drug addict), but soon you will feel normal without the coffee. It's an amazing thing to be leaving for work and smelling the spring air and being happy... and realizing you didn't need to have a cup of coffee to be this awake and joyful!

So here's what worked last time I gave it up completely... First I gave a strick quota for coffee that was "normal" and stuck with that without exception. Then I started reducing intake by about a half cup every several days, until I felt a little difficulty. Meanwhile, I let myself drink as much decaffinated coffee as I wanted -- and that's the trick. Decaf will destroy all the triggers for coffee because your body will stop associating the smell/taste with the drug. Keep reducing coffee and keep increasing the decaf. Stablize when things become difficult. At a certain point the jump between a little coffee and no coffee will not be that big. At that point you have to commit to only drinking decaf. And soon you'll find that it tastes awful and it will reveal that it's just the drug you wanted, not the taste.

Given this gradual approach, your chemistry will have time to adapt and you won't feel awful. Yes, you will feel low-grade aches and depression, but nothing like going cold turkey!

I gave up coffee as part of getting ready for a retreat and felt that was a great idea. I'm also drinking coffee again, so I'm no saint. I suspect I'll give it up again this spring.

Hope that helps.

RE: Caffeine addiction
2/7/10 10:17 AM as a reply to beta wave.
Yeah, I agree that gradual tapering off is the only way to go. I get severe withdrawal headaches when I'm addicted to this stuff and don't get my dose, but I've found that big doses of vitamin C (2-3 grams) seem to help for some unknown reason. Aspirin helps too. Despair and fatigue -- yep, get that too. The fatigue is probably the most difficult thing to deal with when I'm at work and not getting anything done.

Actually, I'm sensitive enough that I get addicted to chocolate, decaf coffee, and even decaf green tea. Hell even rooibos (red bush) tea, which isn't even supposed to have caffeine, does it. I'm not sure what that's about. It's annoying! :-D

On the other hand, some people I know are totally unaffected by the stuff, and can even drink Turkish coffee with no effect. So I think the effect on meditation & brain function is going to vary a lot between individuals.

Personally, I'm quite sure my brain works better when I'm not drinking the stuff. This became very clear to me when I was studying for my qualifying exams, and even some green tea would muck up my head, make my thinking more shallow and automatic. I can get more done if I don't have to think too hard (just doing routine things), but deeper learning & insight seems to be inhibited. The worst effects are the long-term ones, when I've been drinking it for a while, esp. as it combines with the lower-quality sleep from having stimulants in the body at night.

There are some articles on caffeine & learning posted here:

However, I haven't read them all. The conclusions may vary.

Here is the abstract for the one with the filename "han2007-caffeine-hurts-learning.pdf":

Caffeine is one of the most extensively consumed psychostimulants in the world. However, compared to short-term effects of caffeine, the long-term effects of caffeine consumption on learning and memory are poorly characterized. The present study found that long-term consumption of low dose caffeine (0.3 g/L) slowed hippocampus-dependent learning and impaired long-term memory. Caffeine consumption for 4 weeks also significantly reduced hippocampal neurogenesis compared to controls. From these results, we concluded that long-term consumption of caffeine could inhibit hippocampus-dependent learning and memory partially through inhibition of hippocampal neurogenesis. [Myoung-Eun Han, et. al., Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 356 (2007) 976-980]

My meditation did improve when I quit -- noticeably more insight (after a few weeks). A while after the fatigue from withdrawal wore off, it also started to point out some other issues in my mind more clearly, e.g. I can see that my general lack of energy now is really due to inner turmoil -- I was basically self-medicating for depression. So it helps clarify what I need to be working on. Plus, quitting was a good exercise in renunciation, in that I'm a bit less tied to sensual experience now. In many instances I was taking the stuff basically as a mild recreational drug. Dukkha.

As for concentration, it's going to depend. If I'm very sleepy and slipping into hypnogogic states, some will probably help, but it may be better to just catch up on sleep, if that's possible. If my mind is scattered, probably not. Long-term, for myself, I'm pretty sure it hurts both concentration and insight. I think one just has to experiment.

Anyway, now that I have a clearer idea of how this body-mind is working & how it interacts with caffeine, I may still choose to take some at times if that's what I think is the most skillful, esp. until I clear up enough of this turmoil that I can consistently have natural energy, and just deal with the drawbacks. It seems I'm in an endless need-addiction-quit cycle. Coffee samsara. Just seems to be the way of things for now ^^.


RE: Caffeine addiction
2/7/10 9:52 PM as a reply to beta wave.
Thanks, BW and Chris.
BW, that's an excellent point about the efficacy of using decaf as a crutch while one gradually reduces the intake of the real stuff. I'm buying some decaf tomorrow. For whatever reason, it just feels like the right time to try to face this addiction of mine, which has been unbroken now for literally 20 years. I want to start getting up earlier and practicing more, and I don't want to have to go through the whole ritual of firing up the coffee pot, drinking a couple of cups, and then trying to sit (while I'm starting to sweat, my heart is starting to race, etc.) Doesn't make a huge amount of sense.

The renunciation aspect here also seems worth looking into. Do I have the willingness and willpower to lick this kind of full-on sensory attachment? I have a fair amount of remorse about trying to be a yogi while also being hopelessly hooked on a drug. (I think the Buddha said something about this kind of remorse ... ;)
And thanks, Chris, for the info on caffeine and learning. My gut feeling is that I'll be very glad if I can get over this stupid habit.

RE: Caffeine addiction
2/8/10 8:54 AM as a reply to J Groove.
Everything in moderation, I say. I was addicted to coffee and probably still am. I love the stuff. But of course I drink too much and I suffer the highs and lows. I got 1st path at the beginning of the year and i still drink coffee. My fiance bought me an expresso machine and now i have real cappuccinos for breakfast. What i am trying to convey is that it doesn't have to be a hinderance to progress on the path. If you feel it is for you, do something about it. But coffee didn't stop the progress of insight for me. I think there was a good thread on coffee and meditation posted ages ago. I'll look for it and link it here.....from the wetpaint days.

The link

Edited to include link.

RE: Caffeine addiction
2/8/10 12:26 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Thanks, Nikolai.
Part of my thinking here definitely is to try to identify and remove obstacles. (I'd hate to buy the farm, hit the bardos and be told by some multi-armed deity that I would''ve been a jhana master were it not for the damned Starbucks! LOL!)
One certainly could let the super-ego's ambitions run wild at a certain point. I don't want to start stamping out all enjoyable behaviors out of some kind of spiritual materialism. And yet I do sense that things have gotten a bit out of control with the coffee--I drink three huge cups a day, usually.
Yes, moderation in all things. We'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll get it down to one very small cup in the morning and just make do with decaf the rest of the time. Hmmm....

RE: Caffeine addiction
2/8/10 7:12 PM as a reply to J Groove.
I can't say much about effects of caffeine on bio-energetic processes. In fact it doesn't affect me much. However, it does affect my wife. Should she go without coffee for more than a few hours, she gets tired. More than 24 hours, she gets headaches.

If your body's constitution is affected by coffee, i.e. lethargy or headaches, you should consider giving it up altogether. The symptoms go away after 10 days, and don't come back - until you start drinking coffee again.

Once you have established whether you can be free from coffee or not, it is then up to you to weigh up the pros and cons of that next cup of coffee.


RE: Caffeine addiction
3/3/10 11:23 AM as a reply to ratanajothi -.

Great to see this topic. I know for one I have been addicted to caffeine. This December when I went on my first 10 day retreat I figured they wouldn't give me any because of the 5th precept. So the day I traveled up to the center I didn't have any caffeine. Of course when I got there they had coffee and tea for everyone. But I stuck to my guns... it was hell for a few days but I have not regretted that decision. It really helped me level out energy wise... also its great to feel free from all chemical dependency... Coffee was the last of my chemical addictions to go... but I am glad I didn't hang onto it... really helped me sink deeper into meditation... of course everyone's body is different

Good luck...

RE: Caffeine addiction
3/6/10 2:30 AM as a reply to Clayton James Lightfoot.
i suffered from the energy loss when i quit smoking & cut down on caffeine. i tried quitting caffeine but now settled to 1/2 to 1 cup in the morning only.

i eat fruits in the afternoon. i feel the energy it gives is unlike any other food. oranges or pears usually (but just coz theyre the cheapest over here) fruits also help in the bio-energetic dept, as i feel it gives chi. i read fruits are best eaten alone and not too early in the morning as it interferes with digestion of other food. thats what i do.