Coffee: the Drug of Choice

Coffee: the Drug of Choice

OK. Call me nutty. It might be a good idea to do this now before you read what I have to say. For I am coming from a point of view very few of the population share. I am an ex coffee drinker.

Now.. in AA it's the custom to introduce yourself as
My name is Ian Hamilton and I am a recovering alcoholic.
So perhaps I should begin by saying that I am a recovering coffeeholic. Just to keep things very clear.

Living in Byron Bay, home of the Turmeric Latte and the Soycochino, it's difficult to see the beach for signs asking me to buy a coffee. There are mobile coffee vendors, pop-up vendors, night time only vendors, sidewalk shops, surf schools with coffee, bookshops with coffee, surfboard factories with coffee, boutiques with coffee, even coffee stands outside supermarkets to catch you after a torrid grocery shopping session.

Photographer: Tyler Nix | Source: Unsplash

Perhaps this explains why I eventually became a raging coffee addict, slurping down a minimum of (shock, horror!) four cups a day. And when I tried a day without it, I became a very angry man that even I didn't really want to be with.

Finally my Beloved laid it down. The coffee had to go. And faced with a decision like that, I tried hard to explain to her that she could have me with or without, chocolate sprinkled on the crema, or straight nero. She didn't buy it.

Cold turkey.

It's been 3 months now, and I admit that my first weeks were damn hard. And if I'd known what was happening then, it may have been easier.. by far!

But first let's just talk about the heights.. or is it depths.. we as a society have reached in our daily need for a little helper. Unlike marijuana, cocaine or LSD, this drug is in the legal and lovin'it category, but there's no doubt in my mind after my coffee detox that it's a drug. Class A. How else can we explain the absolute coffee culture we adopted in Western Society? How can we explain the millions of coffee boltholes that seem to appear overnight in every leftover retail nook and cranny? How can we explain how we've developed an ethos, a story, a social acceptance system all around the simple invitation of:

Care for a coffee?

If it was heroin we'd be apoplectic as a society, but no, it's a drug, but an accepted drug.
If it was aspirin there's be health warnings.
If it was tobacco.. well, you get my gist.

It's a drug with social cred.

Living on the land outside of Byron Bay made my detox relatively easy. It was a visit to Byron town that gave me the insight into the emotional power of the drug. As I ambled the main street I was surrounded by an experience-hungry mob of backpackers. It didn't stop. They were everywhere, and where they weren't, more local Australian tourists took up the space.

And the common factor? Take-away coffee in hand. As I noticed this, I also noticed something in me. It was the longing. The need. The crave. The anticipation.

I looked down the street and at the people sitting, chatting at the sidewalk cafes, their post-sip aura obvious. But it was me that I was surprised at. I saw it clearly. I WANTED a coffee. Coffee would give me acceptance, ease of conversation, lack of social inhibition. Coffee would make me FEEL GOOD. Coffee's promise and addiction was obvious and it was strong. The emotional tie had not yet dissolved. Or was the emotional tie simply another aspect of the bare faced addiction that coffee is?

Jonathan Hari's book, The Scream – a wonderful book tracing the drug epidemic and its major players -gave me a great gift. He described an area in Montreal, Canada, where heroin junkies had basically been ghettoed. The essence of the story was that the Mayor of Montreal saw them all as basically sub-human until he was persuaded to talk to them.

His attitude to addiction was transformed when he realised that the addicts were simply people seeking a way to come with a life that severely disappointed. Just like everyone else. Today Montreal is at the forefront of drug rehabilitation, with a strong ethos of humane and accepting attitudes to the idea of addiction.

This story gave me a chance to reassess the coffee plague. What is it that coffee gives to us that makes it an essential in our daily lives? What did I feel when I stopped my daily habit for just one day?


Yes, coffee is an acidic brew, and some crafty entrepreneurs now sell low acid coffee. And yes, acidic food does affect our moods, our inflammation level, and our general wellbeing.

But caffeine free coffee is famous not for its acceptance but for its lack of acceptance. Same with low acid coffee. In the words of a long term marijuana using friend: what's the use of smoking if you don't get stoned? We want coffee , we want the stone, and if we don't get it we'll be angry!

The question that arose for me from my higher-than-thou coffee drinker's viewpoint was whether the ubiquitous presence of the barista, the new society's drug pusher, is a valid indication of the extent of suppressed anger and therefore his right place in our society as a purveyor of this legal tranquilizer. As many drug pushers, from pharmaceuticals to illegals would say, he is just filling a need.

As I look around in all of the social expression venues, in all of the political establishments, in all of the social progress groups, if there was one common ground emotion I'd have to choose anger.

Anger, like coffee, is accepted in our modern life. The news channels are angry, the social channels are angry. The politicians are angry, and sure as hell, the voters are angry. So I wonder.. (and this is why I suggested you consider me a bit nutty at the beginning of this piece).. is coffee our ersatz antidote, or warm blanket, our easy fix for what has become an epidemic of anger?

Finally, I'm trying my hardest to understand what that anger is, and where it came from. The simple answers are easy; Trump, Brexit and Global Warming.. but these are the easy ways, the quick fix, and I am wondering which came first: the chicken or the egg. The anger – or the idea of why I am angry. The perceived cause.

But.. if indeed anger comes from those three conveniently huge causes (and about sixty million others) then we are doomed to a lifetime of anger because reasons to be anger are infinite.

And our whole society lived and moves with the lubrication of a vast advertising machine that has one job: to tell us we are not happy. The dominant paradigm is stacked against happiness and for dissatisfaction

I'm going to suggest something without a skerrick of evidence. That anger is our perceived natural state of mind. It's what we think we are. We accept that we are angry because we believe that what we want and don't have will make us happy.

Ergo, we will be angry until we get everything we want.

But what if we are wrong? Wouldn't that be good? What if we can be happy and not have everything our angry mind can manifest in our unreachable future? What if our true natural state was happy, not angry? Imperturbable even.

I'm guessing that my first step towards natural happiness would be clarity of mind. Without clarity of mind maybe I wouldn't know happiness if I fell over it. I can honestly say my moods and my mental clarity have improved enormously compared to three months ago.. which is strange in that the most common statement we all hear about coffee is that I'll feel better and clearer WHEN I GET MY COFFEE!


I've also dropped sugar, limited my carbs, upped my greens and reduced any stimulant/food/drink to an absolute minimum. With that I experienced a unique and separate coming down – detoxing -off that addiction. (Sugar, carbs) It was just one more story with the same plot; mood swings and anger.

So.. are we simply addictive organisms by choice? Our are we still playing the victim story.. and in the words of Bob Dylan, need one more cup of coffee before we go?

It's your choice to believe it or not. You're the Boss. But don't place too much belief in what you come up with. Addicts aren't great at thinking straight, remember?