Confessions of a Java Junkie

My crazy professor hanging from the auditorium ceiling

Coffee is my lifeline. It wasn’t always like that though. I used to hate it, the nasty bitter taste made my stomach turn. Now, I drink it black, like my soul. I blame my coffee addiction on Physics 101 and my body image issues. It was my first year of university, I had a physics class that lasted an hour and a half in an auditorium that sat over 600 students. The auditorium was cold, so I always had my jacket wrapped around me. This, along with my level of interest in physics and my professor’s monotone voice was the perfect combination for nodding off. I remember trying to take notes and falling asleep mid sentence. My notes would go from legible to chicken scratch. One time, I completely fell asleep at the beginning of the lecture and woke up to find my professor hanging from the ceiling by a bungee cord. Look, simple harmonic motion! he was saying. I thought I was hallucinating! Time to find a method of staying awake.

Getting cozy, wrapped in my jacket was not a good idea, so I had to find a new strategy to stay warm. Tim Hortons (THE Canadian coffee/donut shop) was near by, so hot chocolate would be good I thought. Then the little devil on my shoulder woke up and said too many calories to have that all the time. Coffee has no calories. So I started drinking it. It’s an acquired taste. After having it several times a week for a semester, I started to like it. Now, I have it not only because I REALLY like it, I need it too. I’m not quite as alert without it.

Coffee has caffeine which acts as a stimulant. It increases heart rate, stimulates the central nervous system and temporarily boosts metabolism (yay!). Caffeine is similar in structure to a brain chemical called adenosine which makes us sleepy. Since our body can’t tell the difference between the caffeine and adenosine, it ends up using caffeine instead, causing the spike in energy. Caffeine is not unique to coffee, it is also in teas, soda and chocolate, but you get the most benefit from it in coffee. Moderate amounts of coffee can improve your attention span, reaction time and other brain skills. Coffee contains antioxidants along with caffeine. Antioxidants are tiny molecular warriors against diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. That’s not all coffee helps to fight. A 2011 Harvard study followed the caffeine intake of 50,739 women over a ten year period. They found that those who drank coffee had a decreased incidence of depression compared to those who didn’t. So more coffee = less depression. Hook me up to a coffee IV, stat!

Not so fast. It is recommended that the average person have 2 to 4 cups of coffee a day. Every body reacts differently to coffee. Caffeine toxicity is possible. The symptoms resemble anxiety and mood disorders, you can feel agitated, nervous and restless. Depression is often accompanied by anxiety and insomnia. Coffee can aggravate these. It best to see how you react to coffee before hooking up the IV. I noticed that if I have caffeinated coffee in the afternoon, I don’t sleep very well. So now I make sure to unhook my IV or switch to decaf (which has much less caffeine) by noon.

Coffee can also affect you differently depending on your medication. I haven’t read any research on this, I speak from experience and reading mental health forums. I recently increased the dosage of my bupropion (Welbutrin) to 300mg. This medication gives me more energy and a better outlook, but I have to put up with the side effect of tremors. They normally aren’t too bad, my hands shake a little, no big deal. I don’t know if this was because I was adjusting to the new dosage or what, but I had a pot of coffee one morning earlier this week and holy tremors Batman!! I was shaking so much I couldn’t write, type or draw. My muscles were doing strange twitchy things, especially the muscles in my face and it felt like my eyes were vibrating. In addition to all that, I was sooo nauseous! I didn’t actually throw up, but it kept coming and going in waves. I’ve never felt like that before. The last few days I’ve had two cups of coffee with lots of water and I haven’t had the same reaction thankfully. I would be really sad to give up my coffee.

What’s the moral of this story? Coffee has all sorts of benefits, but every body is different. Find out what amount is right for you. Also, watch out when you change your medication!


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