The Dangers of Coffee Addiction

For many years, I took great pride in my ability to consume quantities of coffee that would make lesser men tremble, literally. I’ve boasted about how I, at the tender age of 10, would brew a pot of coffee and drink it before school, on my way to the bus stop. My coffee consumption was so great, that in most of the social circles I frequented, when the terms “Java Junkie” or “Coffee Addict” are brought up, my name was at the top of the list of given examples. In fact, the following graphic was my avatar on most public sites for several years.

Java Junkie Picture

Some who know me have mentioned that I bear a certain likeness to the above image. Perhaps after a couple pots of my world famous (in my own mind) Jimbo’s Special Brew coffee. It’s about 50% stronger than the recommended directions… That’s for Colombian and Black Silk blends.

As a further testament to my previous fascination with coffee, for my Speech 111 class, I actually did my informative speech on coffee. Seriously. I even served chocolate covered coffee beans!

To most people, this mindless drivel can all be summed up as, “Ok, we get it, the guy likes his coffee. Big deal!” I thought the same thing. So, I never made much of it other than the passing comment where it would get a chuckle. That is, until I started experiencing the dark side of coffee addiction. (pun not intended)

As noted, my coffee addiction started at a young age, approximately 10 yrs old. 21 years later, I had developed such a tolerance for caffeine that 2 NOS Energy Drinks barely gave me a nudge and 3 pots of my special brew were my daily minimum. This was the norm for several years. So much so that all of my family, my doctor and my dentist had all told me to lay off the coffee!

Soft numbers do not tell much of a tale, but it wasn’t until I started having health problems that I cared about how much coffee I was consuming. After all, it was my bragging right that I could drink more coffee than anyone I’ve ever met. So what if I exceed a gallon a day. Even better! But then, again, the health problems started.

About 6 years ago, I started having very frequent chest pains. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. After all, I had been having chest pains most of my life and I’ve never keeled over. As these pains became more frequent, I started to get concerned and started monitoring my blood pressure levels frequently. I was shocked at what I saw. Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159/90-99! I was on the low end, but there it was, bright as day on the little LCD screen.

At the time, I thought, meh, OK, so I’m drinking a little too much coffee, I should cut down to less than a pack of cigarettes a day and I need a less stressful job. While all of the above were certainly contributing factors, I underestimated how much of an effect caffeine had. I made some adjustments in my diet and lifestyle and my blood pressure eventually returned back down to relatively normal levels.

Several months passed and while those months were some of the most stressful I had in many, many years, my blood pressure stayed within acceptable levels. However, my coffee addiction wasn’t done with me yet. I was still drinking way more coffee than I should and this is definitely not a good thing for someone with ADHD.

As time passed, my coffee consumption continued to increase again. At first, it was just 1 more 8 cup pot a day, then two, then I started having “other” side effects. I ignored these side effects for a while and just chalked them up to the stress of my life. Eventually, these effects became more pronounced and started causing real problems in my daily routine. To give you a better idea of what excessive coffee consumption can do to you, I’ve researched and come up with the following list of 10 symptoms that are rather common. All of which I have experienced personally.

  1. Confusion
  2. Dehydration
  3. Frequent Urination
  4. Increases Heart Rate
  5. Insomnia/Waking Frequently
  6. Irritability/Restlessness
  7. Labored Breathing
  8. Ringing In The Ears
  9. Stomach Pain
  10. Trembling And Twitching

There are other potential symptoms, and I have had other symptoms, but the above 10 are the most common.

So, how much caffeine does one have to consume to experience such symptoms. A couple pots of coffee? Two or three energy drinks? A six pack of Mountain Dew®? The answer is, it depends. For myself, I had spent 21 years building a tolerance to coffee that is the stuff of legends. I’m sure there are those who can tolerate more in one sitting, but I had consistently been consuming near fatal quantities for a very long time. To find out how much caffeine I had been subjecting my body to, I did some conservative calculations based on reputable values. Here’s what I found out.

Caffeine Content of Coffee
Percolated (7 oz) 140
Drip (7 oz) 115-175
Espresso (1.5-2 oz) 100
Brewed (7 oz) 80-135
Instant (7 oz) 65-100
Decaf, brewed (6 oz) 5
Decaf, instant (6 oz) 3

Source: Caffeine Content of Coffee & Teas

Oral Caffeine Dosages
Threshold 10 – 20 mg
Common 50 – 150 mg
Strong 150 – 400 mg
Heavy 400 + mg
Lethal 3-20 grams oral (estimated, see refs)
LD50 (Lethal Dose*) 192 mg/kg in rats

Source: Caffeine Dosage by Erowid

Using the above charts, which come from Erowid, a reputable source in all things psychoactive, I measured the volume of my usual coffee cups, which was 12 oz.. Then, I filled enough cups to brew my usual “8 cup” pot going by the marking on my coffee pot. It takes 3 full [my] cups to equal 1 8 cup pot of coffee. This comes to 36 oz. I then divided the amount of caffeine in a 7 oz. cup by 7 oz. to come up with a single oz. value, then multiplied it by 36. Using the ranges given, here’s what I came up with.

80mg ÷ 7oz. = ~11.43 mg/oz.
135mg ÷ 7oz. = ~19.29 mg/oz.
~11.43 mg/oz. x 36oz = 411.48mg per pot min.
~19.29 mg/oz. x 36oz = 694.44mg per pot max.

Now, on an average day, I drank no less than 3 of these pots of coffee. So, we take our min. of 411.48mg then multiply it by 3 and get a whopping 1234.44mg per day minimum. To further sober up the mind, look at the much more likely number of 694.44mg x 3 = 2083.32mg per day. A 3 pot day was a slow coffee day for me and I know I make my coffee much stronger than recommended. However, for the sake of argument, let’s go with these conservative figures.

When I sat back and looked at these figures after a very unpleasant day of being mentally foggy and quite “green in the gills” from drinking too much coffee, it really hit me, I had a problem. From that, I started wondering how many of my colleagues and friends had a similar problem and don’t realize it. That’s what prompted this post. I wanted to share what info I have found with others in the hope that, like me, when you look at the facts and figures, your eyes will be opened and you too will realize how dangerous another cup can be.

It’s now approximately 6 years after I originally did the research for this post. My road to recovery from coffee addiction was not easy. I’m happy to say that I no longer consume such large quantities. At most, I consume 5 or 6 cups a day, but usually no more than 4 cups. This is still a little high for most people, but it’s far less than I use to take. Also, I no longer smoke, and I no longer consume other caffeine-laced substances, like energy drinks or caffeine pills.

I’m happy to report that since I’ve cut back on my coffee consumption, my health has improved tremendously, I have more energy, and I’m actually more alert mentally. Please do keep in mind that when it comes to coffee, as it is with most things, moderation is truly the key.