I thought my love for tea would spare me from not only from going broke at Starbucks, but also from developing a dreaded caffeine addiction. It wasn’t until years of happily consuming tea every day that I too became a caffeine addict. Just one cup of tea a day was all it took, but now it’s changed the way I view caffeine entirely.

My First Encounter with Caffeine Addiction

tea, coffee
Preet Bhaidaswala

From an early age, I learned how addictive caffeine could be. I listened to my parents moan about how they couldn’t start their day without a cup of coffee. Then as I got older, I’d watch in horror as my friends would drink their fourth cup of the day by noon, not because they wanted to but because they had to.

Lucky for me, I never enjoyed the bitter taste of coffee. Instead, I was completely smitten with all tea. Green tea, sweet tea. black tea, herbal tea—I loved them all, but my favorite by far was chai.

Once I experienced its sweet and spicy aroma, I could never go back. By the time I entered college, it became a daily habit for me to brew myself a cup of chai with almond milk in the morning. 

Turning Love Into an Addiction

hot chocolate, chocolate, cream, cappuccino, tea, milk, espresso, coffee
Julie Lau

Tea varies in caffeine content, with black tea having the highest concentration. While it’s still less than your usual cup of joe, black tea, like chai, can have as much as 90mg in an 8oz serving. In moderation, a little caffeine can be helpful, but a daily habit like mine quickly adds up.

Of course when I’d make tea at home, I’d never pay attention to how much I was making, even going so far as to use two tea bags for extra flavor.  Despite my daily indulgence, it took me months to notice that I actually developed a caffeine addiction.

Because I only associated being a caffeine addict to coffee drinkers, I thought I’d never be at risk. I never needed tea to wake me up in the morning or keep me going at night; I just drank it because I enjoyed the taste.

So when I first started experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms, I mistook it simply as dehydration. On days when I forgot to have tea in the morning, I'd feel a mild headache around noon. I’d drink some extra water, but when that didn't work, I’d have a pain reliever a few hours later. 

Of course by the time the pain reliever would have kicked in, I was done with work for the day so I’d celebrate with a comforting cup of tea. All the while thinking that the extra water or the pain reliever had cure my headache.

Finally Realizing I Was a Caffeine Addict 

Nicole Landry

After going a few days without having my tea in the morning, I started to notice that these headaches were getting worse and worse. Neither water nor ibuprofen were of any help.

One afternoon, I went home frustrated from work and my mysteriously unending headaches, so I instinctively thought to make myself some tea. With the first sip, my headache disappeared like magic.

And that’s when I realized I might be withdrawing from caffeine. To test this theory, I went a few more days without tea in the morning and then finally switched back to having a cup before I left for work. 

Sure enough, my headaches continued on days without tea and completely disappeared once I was back to my old habit. Once I knew I was becoming a caffeine-addicted just like my coffee loving friends, I had to cure it before it got any worse.

How I Recovered 

Nicole Landry

While there are many tricks to coping with caffeine withdrawal, the most effective solution for me was to wean myself off it. That meant not only did I have to avoid my usual tea, but I also had to watch the soda I might treat myself to on the weekend.

Luckily, it usually only takes a week or two to get over caffeine withdrawal. I wasn’t able to quit cold turkey, so I started switching out my full cup of black tea with an Arnold Palmer at lunch time.

This managed to keep my afternoon headaches from returning, but I still never wanted to worry about being a caffeine addict again. Since I still want to enjoy tea, I committed myself to just one cup of black tea every other day. I also switched to drinking more green teas which are less caffeinated but just as refreshing. 

While I do miss looking forward to that comforting chai latte every morning before class, no longer getting incurable daily headaches has made the sacrifice worth it. Going forward, I'll remember that just because I chose tea over a cup of joe does not mean I am safe from caffeine addiction. It may not be a scary as other drugs, but caffeine is still no joke.