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Caffeine and Nicotine: Roadblocks in Recovery

Caffeine and nicotine are ubiquitous in recovery. So much so that movies and television shows tend to stereotype members of Alcoholic Anonymous as coffee-drinking chain-smokers. Yet, caffeine and nicotine can actually be detrimental to our recovery from alcohol and drugs.

Vanderbilt University found that, of over one million members of Alcoholics Anonymous, about 90 percent drink coffee and nearly 60 percent are smokers. Both caffeine and nicotine are highly addictive substances, and can actually make recovery a more difficult process. Although less significant, substances like caffeine and nicotine boost dopamine in the same manner as drugs and alcohol. When we use substances like alcohol and drugs, we create chemical changed to the reward system of our brain. These changes alter our “hedonic setpoint”, or the point at which we feel pleasure from “happy” chemicals like dopamine. Drugs and alcohol raise this setpoint, inhibiting our ability to feel pleasure from the same things that bring happiness to others because we require more dopamine to feel the same way. When we begin the healing process of recovery, our brain attempts to return to homeostasis by lowering this setpoint back to normal. Taking in caffeine and nicotine gives small surges in dopamine that inhibit the ability of this setpoint to lower to a state of normalcy.

Caffeine and nicotine are also highly addictive and cause the brain to adapt to the intake, leading to withdrawal symptoms when these substances are removed. Caffeine withdrawal, fortunately, is relatively minor and generally only results in headaches and fatigue. The brain can quickly heal, and according to a 2013 Smithsonian article, “This is How Your Brain Becomes Addicted to Caffeine”, “The good news is that, compared to many drug addictions, the effects are relatively short-term. To kick the thing, you only need to get through about 7-12 days of symptoms without drinking any caffeine.” By then, the brain will have returned to baseline levels. Nicotine withdrawal is a bit trickier and can result in anxiety, headaches, and depression. The worst symptoms only last a few days to a few weeks, with baseline brain levels returning after about one month.

Living well in recovery shouldn’t be a luxury. It should be a requirement. Cultivating resilience for lasting wellness, the co-ed programs offered at Resilient House on a full continuum of care provide holistic and clinical expertise for recovery. Our 50,000 square foot facility in Shreveport provides the tranquility and serenity you need to heal your mind, body, and spirit. It’s time to live. Ready, set, go: 833-CHANGE1