When it comes to coffee, cravings often come down to habits and physical dependence on caffeine.
Here are seven reasons why coffee cravings may be creeping up on you.
1. Coffee-drinking habit
It’s possible that you’re craving coffee out of habit. It may be a key part of your morning routine or a basis for social interactions. Over the course of time, you may have become psychologically dependent on the ritual of coffee drinking. So when you try to remove a binding psychological element like coffee, it can feel awkward.
2. Coping with stress
Stress affects your whole body, causing anxiety and fatigue. Many adults use chemical boosters, including nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine, as an emotional crutch in times of distress. It’s normal to want to retreat to the safety of familiar patterns, especially those that give you a pick-me-up.
3. Low iron levels
If you have iron deficiency anemia (low iron levels) you may be struggling with symptoms such as extreme fatigue and weakness. If you’re chronically tired, it makes sense that you might turn to caffeine to “wake up.” Unfortunately, coffee contains natural compounds called tannins that can prevent your body from absorbing iron. Coffee may help you overcome tiredness in the short-term, but in the long-term it can exacerbate symptoms of anemia.
4. Pica and olfactory cravings
Pica is a disorder that causes people to crave or compulsively eat items that have no nutrition. It’s characterized by cravings for things that often aren’t even food, like sand or ash.
One small study looked at a phenomenon similar to pica, which researchers called desiderosmia. This condition causes people to crave pica substances either just for their taste, smell, or the experience of chewing it, rather than actually eating it. In three cases, this was a “novel symptom” of iron deficiency anemia where the participants craved the smell and/or taste of items including coffee, charcoal, and canned cat food. When the underlying health condition was addressed (iron levels brought to healthy levels), the craving for the items stopped.
TirednessIf you’re experiencing lack of energy or tiredness that’s keeping you from your normal activities or from doing things that you want to do, talk to your health provider.
5. Avoiding withdrawal symptoms like headaches
Headaches are a well-known symptom of caffeine withdrawal. In the United States, more than 90 percent of adults use caffeine. When attempting to stop drinking coffee, about 70 percent of people will experience withdrawal symptoms, like headache. Other reported symptoms include tiredness and lack of focus.
Because these headaches typically go away immediately after consuming caffeine, many people drink coffee to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal. You may not even realize that you’re doing it; you just know coffee will make you feel better.
6. It’s in your genes
A study of thousands of coffee drinkers recently helped researchers pinpoint six genetic variants that determine someone’s responsiveness to caffeine. These genes predict whether someone will be a heavy coffee drinker. So go ahead and blame your latte habit on your parents!
7. Caffeine dependency
In the mental health world, addiction means something different than dependence. Someone who is addicted to something continues to use that substance even though it’s causing problems for them, like making them sick or preventing them from functioning normally in society. Although it’s possible to become addicted to caffeine, it isn’t common. Caffeine dependence, however, is a widespread problem affecting both children and adults. Physical dependence happens when your body gets so used to a substance, you experience withdrawal symptoms without it.
Coffee is a stimulant that speeds up your central nervous system, making you feel more awake and alert. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. It also disrupts levels of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, adrenaline, serotonin, and acetylcholine.
See our in-depth chart on caffeine’s effect on your body for even more info.
Although the research is sometimes contradictory, coffee definitely has many health benefits.
Studies show that caffeine may play an important role in the treatment of migraines and other headaches. Many over-the-counter (OTC) migraine medications now contain a combination of analgesics (pain relievers) and caffeine. Caffeine, either combined with other drugs or alone, has long been used in other parts of the world as a natural headache remedy.
Coffee also contains polyphenols, which are natural compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and other plants. Research shows that polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that can boost your immune system. The polyphenols in coffee may help protect you against the following conditions:
- heart disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
Despite the scientifically proven health benefits of coffee, there are several drawbacks associated with caffeine use. There’s also some conflicting research about caffeine’s role in protecting people from heart disease and high blood pressure. Leading researchers now believe coffee is somewhere between neutral and beneficial for heart health.
Regular caffeine consumption may cause high cholesterol and decreased vitamin B levels. The acute (short-term) effects of caffeine can also be problematic.
Caffeine side effects include:
- increase in stomach acid
- rapid or abnormal heartbeat
- dependence (withdrawal symptoms)
Although it may feel like you’re addicted to caffeine, you’re probably just dependent on it. Fortunately, it’s not hard to beat coffee dependence. Caffeine withdrawal doesn’t last long and your body will reset itself after a few weeks of abstinence. After a few weeks without coffee, your caffeine tolerance will also go down. Which means you won’t have to drink as much coffee to feel the stimulating effects.
Here are three methods for breaking up your coffee habit, whether you want to quit coffee or not:
Quit cold turkey
The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can be unpleasant, but are usually not debilitating. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. People with severe symptoms may be unable to function normally and may, for example, be unable to work or get out of bed for a few days.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- trouble concentrating
Caffeine withdrawal typically begins 12 to 24 hours after your last cup of coffee. Symptoms peak after one to two days without caffeine, but may linger for as long as nine days. Some people have headaches for up to 21 days after their last cup of coffee.
Gradually give it up
You may be able to avoid the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal by slowly tapering down your dose. This means you will have less and less coffee overtime. If you regularly consume 300 mg of caffeine daily, as little as 25 mg may be enough to prevent withdrawal symptoms.
You may find it helpful to switch from two cups of coffee to one or substitute hot or iced tea. Caffeine content can vary, but basically breaks down like this:
- An 8-ounce cup of coffee: 95–200 mg
- A 12-ounce can of cola: 35–45 mg
- An 8-ounce energy drink: 70–100 mg
- An 8-ounce cup of tea: 14–60 mg
Breaking your coffee routine
Breaking your coffee habit may be as simple as altering your daily routine. Here are some ways you can change things up:
- Switch to decaf in the morning.
- Switch to a breakfast smoothie.
- Order green tea (instead of coffee) at your local café.
- Take walking breaks instead of coffee breaks (count those steps!).
- Meet friends for lunch instead of coffee.
You might have worked coffee firmly into your daily routines — in the morning, at work, or with friends. The cause of your coffee cravings may be as simple as habit.
While caffeine addiction is possible, it’s rare. Physical dependency or avoiding withdrawal symptoms may be at the root of your cravings instead.
More research is needed to understand if iron deficiency and coffee cravings are linked.
Making an effort to change your routine, cutting back on, or even quitting coffee in the short-term or long-term has benefits.