Caffeine and chocolate (including dark and raw cacao) are mind-altering addictive drugs that affect the brain in a similar manner as other psychotropic substances like cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and alcohol. Therefore, the process of overcoming addiction to them is the same as it would be for any other drug.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”
In simpler terms, psychotropic substances disrupt the production, release, and reuptake of neurotransmitters in the brain. This disruption results in a wide array of psychiatric and physiological symptoms and cravings for the substance in use, because of their ability to mimic neurotransmitters.
Long-term use of caffeine depletes acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, and GABA and causes an elevation in norepinephrine, glutamate, and histamine. Caffeine addiction may lead to addiction to harder drugs, particularly in adolescents. NIDA explains that chronic caffeine use produces greater tolerance in adolescents and is correlated with an increased risk for illicit drug use and substance abuse disorders. It is believed that caffeine primes the still-developing brain of the adolescent for later use of harder substances. While chocolate can lead to depletion of dopamine, serotonin, GABA, endorphins, and endocannabinoids, and an elevation in histamine, glutamate, and norepinephrine.
The goal of overcoming any addiction is to restore balance to brain chemistry. When that is achieved, then cravings for the substance of choice is eliminated, which in this case is chocolate and caffeine.
I have discussed the addictive qualities of caffeine and chocolate in depth in previous posts, if you need to deepen your understanding of this issue, please take a look here and here and here and here. Several people have written to me after reading those posts asking for suggestions on how to get off these substances, so here are the basic steps.
1. Stop Engaging with the Addictive Substance
Just like the alcoholic, cocaine, heroin, or meth addict must abstain from using their substance of choice, the same applies to chocolate and caffeine. You must stop consuming the substances and go through detox and withdrawal, which can be just as severe as addiction to hard drugs.
Get the chocolate and caffeine out of the house. Don’t hang out at coffee houses, donut shops, or candy stores.
Just like the alcoholic or drug addict would never bring alcohol or drugs into the home and would not hang out in the bar, you must get your drug out of choice out of the house and avoid the places where your substance is being used heavily by others.
2. Don’t Engage with Other Addictive Substances
Someone who is recovering from alcohol addiction cannot use cocaine or heroin or they become addicted to those substances and vice versa. The same principle applies here.
If you engage with other psychotropic substances, then the addiction cycle remains active and you will either relapse and return to using caffeine and chocolate or become addicted to the new substance.
Other addictive substances besides the chocolate and caffeine that need to be avoided include all psychotropic drugs (e.g. cocaine, opioids, meth, marijuana and cannabis oil, alcohol, benzodiazepines, etc.) as well as anti-depressants, nicotine, sugar, grains, and high carb foods.
Mind-altering herbs like valerian, passionflower, kava kava, holy basil, ginseng, nootropics should be avoided as well, as herbs affect the brain in a similar manner as pharmaceutical drugs. Any herb used to manipulate mood, energy, or cognitive functions, or induce relaxation, will contribute to more depletion of neurotransmitters in the long run. This includes marijuana and cannabis oil (even the non-psychotropic version).
3. Eat a Diet that will Restore Balance to Brain Chemistry
The food you eat is the most important component for overcoming an addiction of any kind. It is the nutrients in your food that are used by the brain to produce and transmit neurotransmitters. If those nutrients are not present in sufficient amounts, then these functions will not be operating smoothly.
On the flip side, the presence of the wrong types of foods in the diet will contribute to more imbalance in brain chemistry. The diet should be void of sugar of all kinds, grains, legumes, artificial sweeteners, additives, preservatives, pesticides, and of course chocolate and caffeine. It should be low carb and rich in animal protein and fat. If you are high in glutamate or histamine, then high histamine or high glutamate foods will need to be moderated. Other factors like oxalates and FODMAPs should be considered.
An individualized low-carb Paleo diet is the diet that works best for restoring balance to brain chemistry. Making sure that diet is low in carb and rich in animal protein and lfat or possibly ketogenic often works best.
4. Consider Nutritional Supplements
In some cases, a variety of nutritional supplements can be used to help restore balance to brain chemistry more quickly. For example, tyrosine is used to replenish dopamine, and tryptophan is used to replenish serotonin, and l-phenylalanine is used to increase endorphins, and glutamine is used to increase GABA. Each of these nutrients should be accompanied by their vitamin and mineral co-factors like B6.
However, some people do not respond positively to this type of supplementation. You will need to assess your response and adjust accordingly. Some nutritional deficiencies like being low in copper can lead to cravings for chocolate.
5. Address Other Elements that Disrupt Brain Chemistry
There is a wide variety of other issues that can impair brain chemistry including environmental toxins like pesticides, heavy metals, Candida overgrowth, SIBO, chronic stress or sympathetic dominance, childhood abuse and/or neglect, adrenal fatigue, and emotional trauma as a child or an adult. Each of these issues must be addressed.
Of the utmost importance are insecticides and herbicides. You simply cannot restore balance to brain chemistry if these substances are being used in the home or yard. They must be eliminated.
6. Use Mindfulness-Based Meditation Daily
The use of mindfulness-based meditation has been shown to help reduce cravings for addictive substances and decrease the risk of relapse.
Additionally, it has also been shown to alleviate depression, anxiety, and chronic pain, which commonly occur in the addicted population.
Other activities that help balance brain chemistry include deep breathing exercises, mild exercise, getting adequate sunshine exposure, mindfulness-based yoga, and communing regularly with nature.
7. Get Emotional Support and Design a New Life
Like the alcoholic and drug addict who must stop hanging out with their drug dealer or going to parties, you will need to develop a new social network as well. If everyone in your life consumes chocolate and caffeine, it will be extremely difficult for you to abstain.
Bring people with similar values and goals into your life. Build a new life that does not revolve around your substances. Replace your chocolate and caffeine use with healthier activities.
On the other hand, it is difficult to find people who understand the seriousness of your addiction, so you must be strong in your resolve, and become capable of standing your ground and remaining true to your values and principles no matter what the people around you are doing.
Ge the Help You Need
Addiction to caffeine or chocolate can be a primary contributor to many conditions like adrenal fatigue, depression, anxiety disorders, insomnia, sympathetic dominance, OCD, drug or alcohol addiction, compulsive overeating, Candida overgrowth, SIBO or other functional gut disorders and more.
If you need additional help in overcoming these addictions, you can find all the tools necessary, including recipes and meal plans in my sugar addiction toolkit. If you are addicted to a harder psychotropic drug as well, you may want to take a look at my clean and sober program.
When you take the steps that are necessary to restore balance to brain chemistry, you will find that you can overcome cravings for all addictive substances is simple, but it does take commitment, hard work and a willingness to change.
Steven E. Meredith, et al. “Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda.” Journal of Caffeine Research 3.3 (2013) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777290/
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Adolescent Caffeine Use and Cocaine Sensitivity.” https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/latest-science/adolescent-caffeine-use-cocaine-sensitivity
Bruinsma K, Taren DL. Chocolate Food or Drug? J Am Diet Assoc. 1999 Oct;99(10):1249-56.
John J. et al. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2014 Sep 15;307(6)
Caffeine promotes glutamate and histamine release in the posterior hypothalamus.