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How to Know if You're Addicted to Caffeine

From guzzling cups of coffee and tea to chugging energy drinks for an extra boost, your caffeine tolerance may be higher than you think—and an unhealthy dependence may not be far behind.

If the sweet, wafting aroma of coffee is the only thing getting you out of bed in the morning, don't worry, we feel you. Caffeine is one of the most commonly used substances in the U.S. and is found in multitudes of beverages, from your plain cup of joe to that fancy green tea concoction you plucked from the convenience store.

But just how often are you reaching for your mug every day? While coffee and tea consumption is indeed ingrained into the American morning routine, Lisa Schrader, Director of Health Promotion at Middle Tennessee State University, says adults should only be consuming 300mg of caffeine-infused beverages a day, which equates to three 8oz cups of your favorite drink. It's generally recommended not to drink any stimulant-infused drink after 2PM to avoid sleep problems, according to Dr. Eric Braverman, M.D. and founder of PATH Medical NY–unless you're a fan of restless nights, that is.

That being said, if you order a Venti-sized coffee refreshment from Starbucks, that's your daily limit in "one large serving," says Dr. Indra Cidambi, Medical Director of the Center for Network Therapy. And if you're a big fan of carbonated, caffeinated beverages like soda or energy drinks, most come in standard 12 oz servings, which means it's best to limit yourself to two a day, if at all.

First, it's important to understand why caffeine addiction could lead to problems in the first place. Unlike addictive drugs and substances, drinking too much of the stimulant affects a "different part of the brain in the cerebral cortex," says Cidambi, so most caffeinated drinks are generally not considered high risk or gateway drugs. Braverman does warn his patients to be conscious of caffeine dependence, which is indeed a form of addiction, where a person's reliance on the stimulant affects her day-to-day activities.

While caffeine in moderation does offer some positive side effects, such as alertness and fatigue alleviation, and it even helps flush out your liver, the negative side effects of overconsumption can be risky. Schrader says adults who exceed the daily limit often experience problems with insomnia, nervousness, irritability and body tremors. In addition, people with high dependency on the stimulant often have also raised blood pressure and heart rates, and can suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and migraines. In Cidambi's practice, she notes many of her patients report symptoms ranging from insomnia to anxiety, and Braverman has patients who struggle with muscle twitching, exhaustion and even hand cramps.

One study at the University of Kentucky concluded 78% of college freshmen were consuming more than the safe amount of caffeine, regardless of their preferred drink. That statistic isn't surprising considering the night-owl, sleep-deprived lifestyle led by many university students, but most students were alarmingly unaware of how unhealthy their habits were.

So how do you know if you're truly addicted? Consistently consuming more than the recommended 300mg serving of caffeine a day lands most people in the tolerance category, where increased servings of caffeinated beverages are "needed" by the body to feel the stimulant's energy-jolting effects, says Cidambi. She recommends lowering your daily intake slowly and gradually, as it only takes a few days to alter your tolerance levels. So instead of ordering that large latte, try a cup of tea instead! If your daily beverage diet includes several servings of coffee, energy drinks, soda and the like, it's a good idea to start thinning down your list for your health's sake.

This doesn't mean you have to cut mochas or your precious hot beverages completely cold turkey, though. Cidambi tells her patients to mix decaf coffee into their normal brews to start slowly weaning themselves off of complete caffeinated dependence, and Braverman prescribes heightened green tea consumption to counteract dehydration.

Curbing extreme caffeine consumption requires conscious effort and dedication, but it can be accomplished without life-altering changes. The next time you feel a yawn coming on, don't automatically reach for your favorite energy-boosting drink of choice. Try a nice walk around the block to avoid the inevitable Starbucks temptation.

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Bethany Lozier

Bethany is a content creation guru at the Meredith Corporation. Her main passions include fangirling over Leonardo DiCaprio, French culture and fashion. When not perusing the Internet or writing, she can be found reading magazines and socializing with the best of 'em.

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