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My caffeine diary: Giving up coffee for a month was harder than quitting alcohol

I cut out booze almost nine years ago so instead of Sober October I stopped drinking coffee for a month. Easy, right?

Two pics of Andy Morton, the Press and Journal health and wellbeing reporter and author of this article. In one he is pouring a bottle of beer down a sink and in the other he is drinking a coffee while pouring beer down a sink.
Health and wellbeing reporter Andy Morton has already given up booze. Can he kick his coffee habit? Image: DC Thomson/Kami Thomson

Last month, thousands of people in Scotland did Sober October, the month-long sobriety challenge squeezed into the boring bit between summer and Christmas.

As the health and wellbeing reporter at the Press and Journal I wanted to take part.

But there was one big problem. I stopped drinking alcohol nine years ago.

So instead I decided to kick the one habit I enthusiastically took up after booze; beautiful, delicious, invigorating — but, as it turned out, also slightly panic-attack inducing — coffee.

Could I score another victory over an addictive drug? Or would my attempt to beat the bean make a mug out of me? Read these exclusive extracts from my diary to find out.

Sunday, October 1

Ah, Sundays. I love Sundays. A chance to potter around the house and drink coffee. Not today, though, so I rustle up a decaf and try to think of a name for my challenge, just in case it catches on. The best I can do is Oct-no-ber. Hmmm. Needs work.

Monday, October 2

I get really bad headaches when I don’t drink coffee, which has always concerned me. Withdrawal symptoms should only be for hard drugs, right? Not something you can buy on the high street with a chocolate brownie.

Andy Morton looks intently he pours a bottle of beer down a sink
It never rains, it pours. Image: DC Thomson/Kami Thomson

This time round it feels even worse. My head feels like it’s in a vice. In the office, I threaten to punch a co-worker on the nose. I’m only half joking.

Monday, October 9

I’m going completely caffeine free for the month, which means no sneaking around behind coffee’s back with Coca-Cola or, God forbid, Red Bull.

Even Irn-Bru is off the cards as it also contains caffeine. Who knew? Certainly not me, which is why I get most of the way through one at a friend’s house before someone points this out.

A can of Irn-Bru
Eschew the Bru. Scotland’s finest contains caffeine. Image: Shutterstock

Sunday, October 15

I had my last alcoholic drink on January 4, 2015.

There was no one reason for stopping. It just wasn’t as much fun as it used to be. Also, the hangovers were getting worse. Days of misery and self-recrimination.

So when I cut out the drinking, away too went the awful hangovers. It was a feeling I quickly got used to.

Giving up coffee has not been like that. Giving up coffee is causing me pain. I feel lethargic, tired and irritable. I still want to punch someone. And my headache is back.

Is this normal?

Thursday, October 18

My friends think I’m mad. “Why do you keep trying to give things up?” one asks, reasonably. Plus, not one of them thinks Oct-no-ber works.

Today, Mac gets in touch. Mac is American and drinks coffee by the gallon. He spent the pandemic living in my spare room and every morning we’d take turns making giant pots of coffee to jump start the day.

He thought I was nuts to stop drinking, so I tell him I’ve given up caffeine for the month, he laughs and says: “Is there any pleasure in life you won’t surgically remove?”

Andy Morton drinks from a cup of coffee as he pours beer down a sink.
Coffee and me. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Monday, October 23

I tell my work colleague Giada I’ve given up coffee. Giada is Italian so is naturally appalled.

But she tells me about Caffe D’orzo, which people in Italy drink when they don’t want caffeine.

It’s a mix of roasted grains and flavourings such as chicory that became popular around the Second World War when real coffee was in short supply.

A jar and mug of Barley Cup
A cup of Barley Cup. Image: DC Thomson

Giada says in Italy the cafe’s serve it like an espresso.

I find a UK version in Holland and Barrett called Barley Cup. It’s great! Coffee’s answer to non-alcoholic beer. Perhaps I’ll last the month after all.

Wednesday, October 25

I’m going caffeine-free because I suspected it was making me more anxious. I’m 25 days into this challenge and I can’t say I’ve noticed much difference. Maybe it’s just life that’s making me anxious.

On the plus side, I am less jittery. Coffee can really up my heart rate, sometime to the verge of what feels like a panic attack. I don’t know if I’m more susceptible to caffeine. Some people I know can drink a cup and then go straight to bed. I’m not one of those people.

Saturday, October 28

I’m starting to get melancholic about coffee, remembering all the great times we’ve had together.

It hasn’t been an especially long relationship — I only started drinking it five years ago while on holiday in Sicily.

It’s been whirlwind romance, though. In many ways it replaced alcohol – there’s so much to explore, and buying all the beans and coffee paraphernalia such as home espresso machines and Aeropresses is almost as big a buzz as drinking it.

I miss coffee.

Andy Morton makes coffee with an Aeropress on a kitchen counter
Me and my Aeropress, a fancy coffee maker. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Tuesday, October 31

Almost there. Tomorrow I can wake up and smell the coffee.

Wednesday, November 1

I’ve made it. Before leaving for work, I make a coffee in my espresso machine and pour it into a travel cup.

To accompany the moment, I put Blur’s Coffee and TV on Spotify and stick on my headphones.

It’s a lovely moment, walking down King Street in Aberdeen, sipping my first coffee in a month.

Was it all worth it?

When I gave up alcohol I was pretty sure I wouldn’t go back.

The benefits were too big. Coffee’s different because it’s far more socially acceptable. And of course, it’s not nearly as damaging as alcohol can be.

As a coffee shop owner once told me, there’s worse things to be addicted to than coffee.

Andy Morton looks down as he pours beer down a sink.
Bye bye, booze, hello coffee. Image: DC Thomson/Kami Thomson

In my month without coffee, I liked not having the jitters, and my energy levels were much more balanced. Plus, no panic attacks.

But I’m not ready to give it up. Instead, I’m trying to develop a new relationship with it – a treat, not a necessity. And if I backslide into four a day? Well, there’s always next Oct-no-ber.