About six months ago I quit coffee cold turkey. I must say, over the years I've come across many difficult situations as a developer, but man, few have ever been as difficult as quitting coffee. I quit because I found out I was addicted, and what shocked me even more was the fact that I had been completely oblivious to it.
part 1 - quitting
The decision to quit came minutes after I discovered that I was addicted. It was a random weekend like any other, but I felt exhausted and I was nagging my girlfriend: "What is wrong with me?". She replied:
"Is it because you haven't had any coffee in the last two days?"
That hit me like a ton of bricks. I could feel in my bones that was exactly what it was. I had become physically dependent on caffeine - which in my book pretty much defines an addiction. And all those moments when I randomly felt tired or sleepy suddenly made sense.
Now, I must admit that I was perhaps a bit naive. If you're drinking ten coffee every day like I was, you probably shouldn't be very surprised that it's going to have an effect on you. Nevertheless it surprised me. Feeling like a smart, strong and healthy individual made me the least bit worried that something as harmless as coffee was ever going to be anything other than an tasty warm beverage. I mean how bad can it be if everyone is drinking it all the time? Do me a favor, close your eyes for a second and imagine a colleague coming by your desk for a quick chat. Is that colleague holding a cup of coffee? How often do you have the oppertunity each day to get a coffee? I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if there are more streets worldwide where you can buy a coffee than there are streets where you can't. If you search for "list most consumed beverages in the world" then any list you will find will have coffee in the top three. Couple that with the fact that there is barely any warning about the adverse effects of coffee, and you've got a recipe for creating generations of caffeine addicts.
part 2 - withdrawal
From what I've seen and read on the internet, quitting cold turkey is the least pleasant way of quitting, and I can understand why. Most people recommend gradually taking it down, like one less coffee every couple of days or so. I didn't really believe that would work for me so I just stopped drinking at once. The result was two days of exhaustion and headaches and I slept on the couch during the day. After that it took about one to two weeks to get back to normal. So the withdrawal wasn't terrible, but surely not something I had expected from coffee.
Ever since I quit my focus and my energy level is more stable. There are no more random moments of drowsiness, and the urge I once had to drink coffee also disappeared over time. Although there are still plenty of times when I feel like I could enjoy a nice cup of coffee. I sometimes pass by a coffee factory near where I live. It emits a powerful scent of coffee and every time I think, "man it would be nice to have a coffee now".
I also found myself not knowing what to drink instead. Going for a coffee had become a such a habit that I actually had to come up with what else I was going to drink.
part 3 - developers and coffee
Being a developer is a job that requires focus, attention and clarity of thought. Caffeine definitely interferes with that. So it seems paradoxical to me that being a developer is almost synonymous to being a coffee junkie. But it's actually not that surprising. Caffeine is an easy remedy whenever you feel sleepy, and it increases your focus in the short term. And that sure comes in handy whenever you need that extra boost to solve whatever problem you're working on. But there's a debt to be payed. That sleepiness you have suppressed will come back harder when that caffeine wears out. What will you do then? Drink more coffee? Eventually you will end up as I did: being sleepy all the time and drinking coffee all the time.
I'm not saying you shouldn't drink coffee if you're a developer. This story is just a warning to those who are as uninformed about the impact of caffeine as I was. So that the next time you want to grab a cup, you might think twice.