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  • The structural formula for caffeine

My coworker Kevin Warwick recently took a plunge that I’ve often considered but never actually followed through on: learning to drink coffee. Part of my hesitation is that while I’d like to learn to appreciate the taste, I don’t want the addiction; I’ve seen what certain friends are like before their morning coffee, and it’s not pretty. I’m not a caffeine purist—I drink black tea pretty much every morning—but I don’t go through any kind of withdrawal if I don’t have it, and I like that freedom.

For a long time I had only a vague idea of what caffeine addiction actually meant in scientific terms. I’d read that, as with many drugs, you build up a tolerance to caffeine and need more and more to achieve the same effect—but most articles didn’t go into detail about exactly why. A year or two ago, I came across the fascinating blog You Are Not So Smart, written by journalist David McRaney “to publicly explore our self delusions through literary journalism.” Most of the posts focus on psychology, presenting a commonly held belief about the way we think and then meticulously explaining why it’s wrong, often over the course of several thousand words. The one McRaney wrote about coffee stood out to me because it’s the best explanation I’ve seen of caffeine addiction.