Monday, September 27, 2010

Drugs of Choice

My freshman year of college, I took an Intro to Psych class. I think it was one option on the list of requirements, and I thought it would be a fascinating venture in to something about which I knew little. Surprisingly enough, I found that the class was truly an introduction to psychology in that it explained the workings of the brain, as much as we can say we know, rather than the stereotypical "and how does that make you feel?" examining of the human psyche.

I was shocked at some things I learned, and hope that I relay my perception of certain points accurately here. Allow me the disclaimer in that I am NOT a doctor, psychologist (though sometimes feel like one with the young'uns I deal with), or any other occupation in which you should take my words as medical truth. A fascinating point of interest was the brain's interaction with drugs, and we reviewed quite a laundry list of them.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I was not raised with soda in the house (or, depending on where you are, lower case 'c' coke, pop, or any other moniker for fizzy drinks). We drank milk, juice, water, and tea. And our tea was not the diabetic-coma inducing sweet tea you find in the south, but it was sweetened. I continued those habits on my own.

Although we drank hot tea, too, my consumption of hot tea increased exponentially my undergrad years. In college, the dorms became arid as the desert in the winter, so I would drink a cup of tea at breakfast to moisten my throat (note to all my former and soon to be former students - seriously...invest in a warm mist humidifier for your dorm room, apartment, etc. The flu virus hates moist air, and I credit my consistent use of a humidifier with preventing us from getting sick as often during the winter months...).

Enter life after college - I began to experiment in the various types of tea - green, black, white. I found it relaxing. Delightful. Delicious. And it is so good for you. I even threw "Ladies Hat Tea Parties" with my friends. All very good stuff. But I did not drink coffee. I pretty much refused. When I had no choice, I had coffee with my milk and sugar, and not the other way around. When I went to Italy, I actually had to take a Dramamine with my espresso or it would give me such a buzz I got ill. Seriously.

Back to my freshman year - I learned that the neurotransmitter that acts as a stimulant is called acetylcholine (ah-SEE-tyl-KOH-leen). It's a fun little chemical that bounces around from synapses to synapses and makes you feel awake. When you consume caffeine, the body recognizes that it is a stimulant, and puts a hold on the amount of acetylcholine that you produce naturally. After following a habit of consumption for so long, the body no longer makes the same amount, resulting in headaches, crankiness, etc. Hence, the coffee-headache you experience when you don't get your coffee soon enough, or enough of it.

I was horrified to think that something I did purposely could cause me to feel that way, and vowed to never become a coffee drinker. I wanted my mind to "be in its right mind" and not expect anything from outside my body to function properly. Sure, I enjoyed times when I consumed caffeine. And goodness, it never took much. If I actually pounded a full 12 ounces of soda, I would get a caffeine buzz. So, I stuck to tea, water, milk, juice. Besides, coffee was absolutely disgusting. It was bitter and made my breath smell bad.

And then Sydney came. I made it 33 years without becoming dependent on coffee. Now, more than a year later, coffee does for me what tea used to do - it relaxes me. I love the smell, but had to get used to the taste. And now, I can actually have 2 cups and still fall asleep while nursing Sydney. It no longer affects me the way it used to, but I can actually understand the commercial where the woman wraps both hands around her mug, curls up in her pajamas and slippers on the living room love seat, and inhales deeply, ecstatically, of her mug of coffee.

I've never NEVER used illicit drugs. But I will say that caffeine is, indeed, a drug. And it is now my drug of choice, administered through coffees and creamers - mix and match to find your bliss.

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