Caffeine’s a Drug Too


Creative Commons license, SiefkinDR 2 July 2011

Despite writing many tales involving desperate murder plots and assassination attempts, I’ve never actually had anyone hire an assassin to make an attempt on my life. I’m thinking, after this post, that may change. I can already envision the coffee lovers of the world starting a gofundme account to raise the assassin fee.

But I’m still going to say it. Caffeine is a drug too. It falls into the stimulant drugs category along with cocaine and meth, only, of course, much, much weaker. And more legal.

And drugs, even weak drugs, affect your brain chemistry. As a mental health counselor, I see a lot of patients who have some kind of anxiety disorder. Panic Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, these are all anxiety disorders. Guess what is one of the worst things possible for any kind of anxiety disorder?—a stimulant drug.

The amygdala region of the brain regulates the “fight or flight” response and decides when is an appropriate time for your brain to dump adrenaline into your system. For example, rabid mongrel coming your way, good time for your brain to dump adrenaline into your body and give your feet the swiftness of wind as your heart pounds. Have to present notes at your work meeting, not such a good time for your brain to dump adrenaline and make your heart gallop out of control. The reason people experience anxiety disorders is that, for whatever reason, their brain has started making poor choices concerning when to dump adrenaline.

Since caffeine stimulates the adrenaline-dumping portion of your brain when there is not a deadly threat such as a rabid mongrel coming your way, caffeine weakens that part of your brain and, with long-term use, can affect your brain’s ability to make the correct choice about adrenaline dumping. Now, of course, some people are less sensitive to caffeine than others and may be able to get away with putting massive amounts of caffeine into their body for years. And I shan’t say I’ve never had a single cup of coffee since I earned my master’s degree in 2011.

Still, given the choice between coffee and tea, I chose non-caffeinated herbal tea every time. Nothing against the coffee lovers of the world. I love the smell of brewing coffee too. But if you’re ever having trouble with anxiety, or sleepless nights, or just overall stress–I’m raising my hand here–dump the coffee down the sink and reach for some Celestial Seasonings tea bags.

And while we’re talking caffeine, can I just say Red Bull comes straight from the pit. Hyperbole, perhaps. But seriously, if you’re suffering from anxiety and want to save some money at the counselor’s office, choose tea. You could always buy some scones to go with it.

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When’s the last time your body’s dumped adrenaline into your system? Was it useful, or did you wish your amygdala had kept that adrenaline to itself? 🙂