caffeine addiction

Caffeine Addiction and Stress

I had a client today with a caffeine addiction. This man is driven, intense, and stressed out at work. He runs a cleaning business. He says he must be addicted because he can't stop drinking V, a strong caffeinated drink. Actually, he can give up V, but then he starts drinking Coke or Pepsi. But those don't give him the same satisfaction, so he always goes back to drinking V.

He drinks V when he is stressed. He gets stressed by work, by family matters, by staff problems, by irate customers.  It is a  a physical need to drink it. He does not get any mental distress about not having it. He has become a bit of a connoisseur of V. It has be V, it has to be cold, and freshly bottled, it has to have the right taste (apparently batches are different sometimes), it has to be from a bottle and not a can.

I could not find any mechanism causing this behavior. I was thinking of sending him home with no charge.

Caffeine Addiction is like smoking addiction

But it struck me that this was exactly how smokers behave when they can't give up. So I tested for depression. He had all symptoms. But when I discussed it, he was very reluctant to even consider the idea.

When he has to go to a cleaning job because one of the staff has failed to turn up, he has to motivate himself. He needs to  get over the feeling of frustration and annoyance with being let down. So even before he starts the job,  he is thinking of a cold bottle of V as his reward.

And this is the key to his problem. He has set up a problem-reward cycle where he can do anything provided he knows that he is getting his reward. But it has to be exactly right: cold, bottle, V brand only, correct taste. When he gets that, everything gets reset back to normal. But then the stress builds up again and he can't stand it until he has to have another V experience. The V is what motivates him.

Treat the stress and not the caffeine addiction 

When we went over the reasons for that it became obvious that his problem was black and white thinking. Once that was established it was clear that the right approach was to forget about the caffeine, and deal with the stress. Finally, he then revealed that his brother is bi-polar. He didn't want to hear about depression because he does not want to think he has a mental illness like his brother.

I spent some time outlining what depression is, and how he could manage it.  He left a much happier man.

David Mason

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