What's wrong with 'addiction lite'? How your daily coffee habit could be more serious than you think

Friday, January 15th 2010, 4:00 AM

BILL: Addiction specialist Lynn Telford Sahl, author of the best selling “Intentional Joy,” recently told me of a patient who used to have a mocha latte once a week as a reward for a hard week completed. She liked the sugary, caffeinated rush, and began to crave her weekly shot. It progressed from a weekly pleasure to a daily must-have, and now if she doesn’t have her caffeine fix she feels depressed. She also feels guilty about weight gain and has trouble sleeping, but doesn’t make the connection between those symptoms and the coffee she’s consuming.

DR. DAVE: The problem with “Lite Addictions” is that the more we use them, the more we’re training our brains to rely on unhealthier forms of stress relief.

BILL: But Doc, just because you like something doesn't mean you can call it addiction, lite or otherwise. As you noted in our column on Tiger Woods, sex with a lot of women doesn’t necessarily mean he is a sex addict.

DR. DAVE: But if Woods continues on that path despite what is happening to his marriage, his career and endorsements, then …

BILL: Then he could be defined as addicted, yes. But Lynn’s java-slurping client? Come on - isn’t that pushing the envelope on labels?

DR. DAVE: That’s why I called it Addiction Lite. It’s listed right there among all the other drug dependencies in the medical disease classifications. Unlike alcohol, pot, pain killers and all the other drugs that substantially alter your mind, caffeine, though an addiction, is not one of the Drugs of Abuse. The same is true for nicotine.

BILL: You know, Doc, I went through rehab back in the Golden Age of Smoking. Not only were we drinking coffee 24/7, but everyone was lighting up before the door on the counseling room had finished closing. I notice that most drug rehab centers today are offering nicotine cessation, really restricting smoking, and, if not taking coffee out of the diet, at least serving only decaf.

DR. DAVE: Studies like the National Institute of Health’s report from Drs. Friend and Pagano consistently show that smokers who quit using tobacco when they quit drinking also have lower levels of further alcohol use than those who continue smoking. The relationship between alcohol and smoking is compelling. Giving up the lite addiction of tobacco gives you better odds of not succumbing to the addictive use of harder, more emotionally destructive drugs.

BILL: Studies I’ve read show that 60-95% of alcoholics are also dependent on nicotine. Is that why specialists like you have begun to pay more attention to these lite addictions that most of us all too easily shrug off?

DR. DAVE: What we’d like to see is standard addiction treatment merged with the wellness retreat center models of lifestyle change that have long been used with cardiac and cancer patients and other survivors of life-threatening diseases. These programs are designed for a post-rehab residency of seven to 14 days, and directly go after the lifestyle stressors and their imbalance that underlie the lite addictions.

BILL: And, I hope, the high fructose corn syrup compulsions we described in a column last month?

BILL: Wow, do I have to go get drunk again to spend a week there?

DR. DAVE: Nope - it’s a renewal and community re-entry center, whether you have been clean and sober for 30 days or 30 years.

BILL: And how can I book a room at the Inn?

DR. DAVE: Well, this one isn't admitting until April 1, but if you want to get a really good grasp on a holistic recovery lifestyle support program, you can take a virtual trip to the Web site of the Cedar Springs Renewal Center.

Dr. David Moore is a licensed psychologist and chemical dependency professional who is a graduate school faculty member at Argosy University's Seattle campus. Bill Manville is a Book of the Month novelist; he teaches “Writing to Get Published” at http://www.writers.com/manville.html. His most recent non-fiction work, "Cool, Hip & Sober," is available at online bookstores.