help me drink just the right amount of coffee
October 19, 2007 5:03 AM   Subscribe

How infrequently must I drink coffee to avoid becoming addicted?

I love my coffee, but I don't love being tethered to it. I would like to figure out how frequently I can drink a shot of espresso (if it matters, usually with about 10oz of steamed milk) without becoming addicted and having to go through withdrawal. I weigh about 165lbs and my BMR has been guesstimated at about 1700kcal/day by various websites.

I did some searches, but was only able to find information on how to quit, which I already know well enough how to do.

If anyone is wondering about motivation, I go on a lot of wilderness trips and drinking instant coffee makes me feel like I'm digging around for cigarette butts to smoke. I also like being able to stop paying for fancy coffee on a whim without having to worry about a three-day headache.
posted by yomimono to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an occasional espresso drinker who only indulges in this caffeine fix once a week. I'm caffeine-free for the rest of the week, and purposely avoid caffeine addiction.

I've found that a weekly, or even bi-weekly shot of espresso never leads to addiction. Even better, when I'm abroad and jet-lagged, I'll drink espresso daily, sometimes twice a day. After two weeks, I can resume my non-caffeine lifestyle with no problems, and no withdrawal symptoms at all.

I don't think that caffeine addiction is like heroin or liquor addiction, in which a single lapse dumps you off of the bandwagon. For me, withdrawal symptoms only set in after I've been drinking daily espressos for two months or so.
posted by Gordion Knott at 5:25 AM on October 19, 2007

Once I've broken the addiction, if I start drinking coffee products again for four days a week, I'm back with the headaches if I don't have it. Two or three times a week is okay for me.

I'm a smaller woman, if it matters.
posted by letahl at 5:54 AM on October 19, 2007

Any advice may not apply to your specific body, so why not experiment? Start with espresso every other day for a week, go without for a week, and adjust accordingly based on experience. Once you find a happy medium, perhaps drink at that rate for a month or so then abstain for a week to make sure a longer exposure doesn't affect the withdrawal symptoms.
posted by backupjesus at 5:56 AM on October 19, 2007

Another data point: I have one coffee a day. An espresso, in the morning. If I don't have it, the sky falls in. Skullcrushing headaches. I know other people who can have one cofee one day, 3 the next and none the day after and have no ill effects. It's a personal thing.

Or, on preview, follow backupjesus's advice.
posted by tim_in_oz at 6:35 AM on October 19, 2007

Try to keep it under three or four a day.
posted by caddis at 7:06 AM on October 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have one coffee a day. An espresso, in the morning. If I don't have it, the sky falls in. Skullcrushing headaches.

As a heavy coffee drinker (~8 cups a day when it's bad) I periodically quit so that I reduce my tolerance and I can get those happy coffee thoughts again... anyway. I've found it's not just quantity but timing that leads to withdrawal symptoms:

if i get into drinking a cup first thing in the morning I find myself craving the next cup sooner and it's much harder to give it up. I think the same is true for cigarettes so it's likely something about our brains...

i found green tea works well as 'methadone' to modulate the withdrawal symptoms (much more so than black tea) i.e. keeping your skull mostly inflated and the sky where it should be...

I think if I had just a shot of espresso, even every day, but in the afternoon, I could probably stop with little side effects. but where's the fun in that, all or nothing.

right now i'm on the wagon, or off, I can never remember which is which.
posted by geos at 7:13 AM on October 19, 2007

I have one a day (espresso, in the morning), and can skip several days without horribly ill effect (maybe a little grumpy? no physical pain anyway). I do drink a fair amount of green tea as well though.

I used to drink 3 - 4 coffees / day, and had shocking withdrawal symptoms when I cut down. So I guess somewhere between the two would get you where you want to be.
posted by bifter at 7:18 AM on October 19, 2007

There is no single answer to this. It depends on your metabolism, so you'll have to experiment.

I can handle one 12oz cup a day indefinitely without risking addiction/withdrawal, but a friend is in trouble after a single half-cup.
posted by dws at 7:27 AM on October 19, 2007

To approach this from another direction, you could skip the complicated calculations and bring a Bialetti Brikka when camping.
posted by zamboni at 9:56 AM on October 19, 2007

Personally, I seem to get 'withdrawal symptoms' even after a an odd dose when I've been 'clean' for months, It still takes a few days to wear off. If my intake of caffeine has been frequent, it can take at least a week for any symptoms to wear off. I seem very sensitive to drugs though, so I don't take drugs any more i.e. alcohol and caffeine. Unless others under exaggerate.
posted by randomizer at 11:06 AM on October 19, 2007

Switch to tea in between? I tend to go on streaks of coffee (I was drinking 4+ shots of espresso a day this summer, but I've had weeks of no coffee at all since), but when I'm not drinking coffee I'm usually drinking green tea. Far less caffeine, but maybe it's enough to fill the craving. You could also try something like yerba mate.

I just realized I've probably had caffeine every day for the last 6 months or so, at least... oof.
posted by devilsbrigade at 11:53 AM on October 19, 2007

I usually taper off on my coffee drinking a few weeks before I go on backpacking trips. I don't think it's ever a good idea to quit anything cold turkey. On my last few trips I've brought along caffeinated gum in case I felt any withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine pills would work just as well, I'm sure, and are just as light in your pack.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 12:03 PM on October 19, 2007

You'll have to experiment, but I'd start at a couple times a week and see if that does it for you. Eastern medicine says you should take cardamom with your caffeine to counteract it, so that might be worth experimenting with, too.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 4:32 PM on October 19, 2007

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