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This is your brain on caffeine

How do you become addicted to Caffeine? 

Nowadays, it’s not hard to become dependent upon your daily cup of coffee. What with cafes on every corner and Monday mornings existing, that’s the first thing we’re all willingly throwing our money at, resulting in caffeine addiction. But what happens when you run out of coffee at home, the coffee shop is closed, work only has decaf, and you’re left with no other option than to go without caffeine for the day? Herein lies the first symptoms of withdrawal.

It’s true, you can become addicted to caffeine — after all, caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system. If you stop consuming it for a day or more, you may start to experience some unpleasant symptoms.

How does your brain become addicted to caffeine?

If you dig to the bare roots of caffeine addiction, it stems from the alertness that caffeine consumers crave. Once caffeine is consumed, it’s absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Caffeine is a chemical, that according to science, is both water and fat-soluble. Because of this, it is able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain.

Caffeine bears a resemblance to adenosine, a molecule that is naturally present in our brain, to such a great degree that it can fit methodically into our brain cells' receptors for adenosine, productively blocking them off. Under normal circumstances, adenosine locks into these cells and creates a feeling of fatigue. In turn, while caffeine is blocking these receptors, it gives off a sense of alertness and gives us a boost for a few hours.

With Americans running on coffee now more so than ever, taking advantage of these effects by overindulging, is changing the brain's chemistry and physical characteristics. In an attempt to maintain equilibrium with the constant onrush of caffeine, the brain cells grow more adenosine receptors. As a result, regular coffee drinkers build up a tolerance over time. The more adenosine receptors you have, the more caffeine you'll need to block them to achieve the desired result. Essentially, it becomes a domino effect. 

Along with building a tolerance, it's no secret that giving up caffeine can trigger some pretty awful withdrawal effects. But luckily, they're oftentimes pretty short term.

What can I expect with caffeine withdrawal?

Caffeine is so widely consumed in our day-to-day that it has become a natural part of our routines. Because of this, we often forget that it, in fact, is a considered a psychoactive drug and may lead to some rough days ahead if you skip that part of your routine.

According to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), caffeine withdrawal has been included as a mental disorder for the first time. Luckily, the effects are fairly short-term. To break the addiction, stick with it for 7-12 days and your adenosine levels will go back to baseline. Or, just don't ever stop drinking coffee and life as we know it will be absolute.

Related: Here's what coffee does to your brain

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