Virtuous Addictions?

Waking in the morning, the desire (ok the need) for coffee, is unassailable. However, it’s important not to position coffee as simply another vice. When Peter Martin, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Director of the Institute of Coffee Studies took the stage on October 21, 2004, to talk to a group of journalists, he mainly talked about the health benefits of coffee. But when the issue of addiction came up, he was ready. In most regular, serious, hard-core coffee-drinkers, coffee deprivation leads to serious symptoms: Within 12 to 24 hours, those denied their daily java get headaches, become drowsy and irritable, feel weak and tense, are unable to concentrate, and may even vomit. Fortunately, after about 48 hours, the symptoms start to improve. It sounds serious. In fact, some psychiatrists suggest that coffee withdrawal should be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

So after admitting that the beloved dark brew is addictive, Dr. Martin felt compelled to comment, saying: “I’m an addiction psychiatrist and regularly face the challenge of treating patients addicted to alcohol, cocaine, morphine, etcetera. I would like to underline that there is no evidence that coffee, or even caffeine, is addictive in the way that those drugs are. Even though headaches and the urge to drink coffee can occur after precipitously stopping drinking coffee, people do not destroy their lives and their marriages, rob banks, and commit assault or murder in order to obtain coffee.”

I watched as my neighbor and good friend struggled with coffee withdrawal during Yom Kippur. Not eating, he explained, was tolerable---but a day without coffee was challenging to the say least. But, he survived and is currently well-caffeinated.

Coffee does not destroy lives. It’s difficult to say that about alcohol, nicotine, and narcotics---but, remember, this is a scientific, empirical argument. Not a forum for moral judgment. In a recent film starring Anne Hathway as Kym, a recovering addict, Ms. Hathway is largely depicted as a sympathetic and chronically coffee-drinking character. Toasting her about-to-be-married sister, Kym proclaims, “L’Chaim” as she raises her cup of coffee 'to life'.

The end of pre-election coverage led to a news hangover, which is definitely suggestive of an addiction to excitement of the navel-gazing, we-are-making-history, this-is-a-seminal-moment variety. But that’s ok. Life---that is what we are mostly addicted to---and maybe, many other things too….Art, jazz, exercise, the New Yorker (who knew), National Pubic Radio, friends, family, and the thrum of life in our community. All very, very good things. To coffee---to life.


Anonymous said…
Here's to coffee! I just had my second cup of the day with raw milk-my first time-and let me tell you, it was delicious! keep us these coffee stats-i love them.
alydar said…
What about the so-called addictions to excercise, work, food, computers, sex, gambling, etc.? How do those rank in virtuousness relative to coffee addiction?

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