Yes, you “need” your morning coffee to get you through the day, but no, you don’t really “need” it to the extent that if suddenly all the coffee shops in the entire country closed, you’d be digging through dumpsters looking for a couple of beans to get your fix. That’s the gist of a recent video from Tech Insider featuring Dr. Samuel Ball, CEO of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, explaining why coffee addiction isn’t a real addiction – at least in his sense of the word.
Ball draws a firm line between “physiological dependence” and the rest of the components of addiction. Physiological dependence to caffeine is “common between coffee addiction and other forms of addiction,” he states – even addiction to more powerful stimulants like cocaine or meth – and if you stop drinking coffee, you will get a withdrawal effect, “but it’s not the same really as calling it an addiction … because you don’t have these significant negative consequences.”
True “addiction,” according to Ball, has a couple additional negative hallmarks: First, as he states, is “continu[ing] to use or engage in that behavior” despite negative consequences and, second, is becoming “significantly preoccupied with the use of that substance or that behavior in a way that that behavior becomes the all-consuming focus of their life to the detriment of their family, their friends, their jobs, all of their other interests.” So for instance, if every time you drank a cup of coffee a puppy died, and you decided to continue drinking coffee anyway, it sounds like that would put you one step closer to addiction. And if you became so preoccupied with coffee that you decided to get a job as a barista, that sounds like another signpost of addiction – to me at least. I am not a doctor. Or a CEO.
All joking aside, Ball suggests that part of the problem is that often times Americans like to jump to the term addiction. “Anytime there’s a behavior that is engaged in on a repetitive and daily basis, we have a tendency to want to call something like that an addiction,” he explains. Not necessarily: I write these articles every single day and not once have I ever said I am addicted to it. But then again, I always get my cup of coffee before I start.