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Experiment Log No. 3 – 30 Days Without Drugs

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In this experiment I will go 30 days without any drugs (except prescribed medicine) and document what kind of complications arise in my social life and my general day-to-day routines. See the original post here.

The drugs that have had the biggest influence in my life — the ones whose negative effects have made me want to undergo this experiment — are alcohol and caffeine.

I describe in detail exactly why I’m doing this in the main article, but here’s the gist:

Caffeine — It’s something I lean on at work, it makes me feel overloaded and tired later.  It makes it difficult to stay mindful and focused.  It’s not a huge problem but I’d like to see how abstaining affects my sleep schedule and my general physical state throughout the day.

Alcohol — It costs too much (including taxi rides and late-night pizzas), it supplies calories I don’t need, it makes me say dumb things and it impedes my ability to get to know new people.  It’s ubiquitous in my social life; I’m 28 years old and so much of my recreation involves this nasty drug.  I just want to see if the world will fall apart if I don’t have any at all for a month.

This is a bit scarier because my social life is so deeply wrapped up in alcohol use.  Everyone does it (except for my pregnant friends and family members) and I hope it isn’t a crucial ingredient, because it sure has a lot of downsides.

This experiment began, on schedule, on Monday, July 6, 2009.

It is slated to conclude on Tuesday, August 4, 2009.

After that I can drink Long Island Iced Teas all night if I want to.  I wonder what I will want to do.

I will post updates as significant ramifications occur, which probably won’t be every day.


Day 1 — Monday, July 6, 2009

Okay it’s evening now, and today went fairly easily.  I did notice my usual reaction to seeing the Tim Horton’s sign on Portage Avenue as I drove to a job site today, followed by a small pang of disappointment as I remembered my commitment.  There were no other temptations, and I have not told any of my friends yet.

Day 4 — Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well it’s the morning of day 4 and it has been a breeze so far.  I do feel that “Where’s my coffee” feeling when I sit down at my desk in the morning.  But I don’t find it difficult to have water instead.  I have not yet been in a social situation where I might want to drink, I’ll report when I do.

Day 5 — Friday, July 10, 2009

Well it’s Friday evening and I’m bummed out.  I’m not sure if my experiment has anything to do with it.  This week was extremely hectic at work and I was so glad to leave for the weekend, but now I’m in a low mood.

I know part of it has to do with the underwhelming response to my latest article.  I try not to let myself get emotionally attached to traffic numbers or comment totals, but it seems to be affecting me today.  I was proud of it when I wrote it, but I’m not really anymore.  People are on holidays I guess, or maybe I take too long to get to the point, or maybe it just sucks.  The worst part is that I care, at least when I’m in a crumby mood.  I crave recognition sometimes, and I’m too used to it. (experiment 4?)

It is under circumstances like these that I might possibly make some coffee and get busy on something else, or have a beer if I had any on hand.  Another thing I do when I feel down is visit my friends.  Friday night I usually drop by the house of a close-by friend and have a few.  An easy thing to do — far easier than dropping by to not have a few.  I will see some friends tomorrow, but right now I feel quite unprepared to socialize.

Early in the week I decided to stay home tonight.  During the workweek, I crave free time so I can do the things I’ve been meaning to do.  Often I try to fend off social commitments so I can spend friday evening writing or promoting my blog or just catching up on my to-do stuff.

But tonight I’m stagnant and kind of lonely. Coming off my move, I have more time but I’m as disorganized as ever and I just don’t know where to start.  My GTD system is in shambles, I really should get on that.  Other things have slipped too and I’m not sure which pieces to pick up first: my French studies, my blogging plans, the forty other projects I’ve got my hands into.

I do have a mild headache that feels very much like caffeine withdrawal, I just don’t know why I’m only experiencing it now, five days after my last cup of coffee.  I’m inexplicably tired.

I don’t know if this whiny little entry has anything to do with the effects of drug abstinence, or if I’m just in a crap mood and needed a convenient place to complain.  But I certainly did notice the inclination to both drink coffee and alcohol in response.  I will try to find a much better high by making good use of the rest of my night and getting organized.

Day 7 — Sunday, July 12, 2009

Well I stayed home both Friday and Saturday, so that sure made it easy.  A few friends were out of town, and I phoned another one whose phone was off, and ended up not going out.  That’s fine.

I have had 4 cups of earl grey, though, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I thought tea had negligible caffeine, but now I see that black tea has about a third a cup of coffee’s worth.  So I don’t know where that puts me.  It certainly doesn’t have enough to cause the problems I was experiencing with coffee (tiredness, dehydration, unhealthy feeling) but it means I am not entirely off drugs.  What I really want is the “hot drink effect.”  I’m out of earl grey so I think I might switch

One problem I’m encountering is that I now drink absolutely nothing but water.  I cut out milk years ago because it made me feel gross.  I cut out juice and other drinks because they’re mostly empty calories.   I try to drink water with gratitude, knowing that there are many people out there in the world who do not have the privilege of potable water on command.  Maybe I should just learn to be happy with that.

I have noticed some physical effects though.  I’ve been having mild caffeine withdrawal headaches, even a week into the experiment.  And I feel very good physically.  Alert, calm.  But mentally I’ve been a bit down, probably because I didn’t really socialize this weekend, and I’m disappointed in my lack of productivity.

Next weekend it won’t be possible to not socialize (not that I would let it happen again), as I have a going-away party for a pair of friends who are moving.   That will be a real test, and I will try not to compensate for my lack of alcohol by consuming too much food.

But the first week has breezed by, and I do feel exceptionally healthy.  If this pattern continues I think by the end of this experiment I will have renegotiated my relationship with drugs for good.

Day 8 — Monday, July 13, 2009

Well I had a rude awakening yesterday.  I felt like the tea was cheating a little, even though I didn’t get nearly the buzz as from coffee, so I made my last earl grey teabag and pounded it back to get rid of it.

I got tossed completely.  It really made me feel unstable.  I had been profoundly relaxed physically, and this quick cup just wouldn’t let me chill out.  I felt high, and I couldn’t get rid of it.

I met my mom for Thai food shortly after and I was alarmed at how disoriented and uneasy I felt.  It was a little difficult to follow the conversation, I became preoccupied much more easily, and I kept catching myself just staring at things: doorframes, forks, surfaces. I couldn’t rest my eyes or mind comfortably.

There was this inappropriate compulsion to act, to always adjust something, whether it was in my head or on the table.  It very plainly made me less okay with things the way they were. It doesn’t take a Buddha to know that this is a recipe for suffering.

It may be partly because it caught me off guard.  If I was able to bring awareness to the caffeine experience itself, I might better be able to field the weird impulses I kept having.  In any case, I learned that there is quite a different between the sober experience and the caffeine experience, and I never want to smear them together with thoughtless caffeine consumption again.  No more tea, that’s for sure, I  can’t imagine what a large Tim Horton’s would have done to me.

Day 15 — Monday, July 20, 2009

I can’t believe this experiment is half over already.

Friday I had my first social engagement since this thing started.  Two of my friends were moving away, and two of my other friends had just moved back to town.  Definitely cause for socializing.  We sat out on the patio at another friend’s condo.

I had told two friends I would drive them, and when I arrived to pick them up there were already in friday mode, beers in hand.  I tried to pretend I was also in Friday mode, but it just didn’t feel like it.  Normally I would have had my first of six (or more) beers right then, and it definitely felt weird

There were triggers everywhere.  That particular basement, that particular couch and coffee table, the laughs of those particular friends… all of those things go with beer like milk goes with cookies.  And it was sunny, Friday, old friends in town, an evening get-together on the horizon.

So we went, and I drank diet ginger ale (I need an alternative.)  At first I really had trouble getting into the conversation, and it made me wonder if it was the alcohol itself that was missing, or just the comfort of a beer in my hand.

Later on we played cards and I did have fun.  The evening was sort of subdued, but I think it was for everyone else too.

I think what I missed was the element of chaos that alcohol adds to an evening.  It’s hard to explain exactly what I mean by this (I failed to explain it well to someone yesterday) but I’ll try.

Alcohol (or any other intoxicating substance) throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the regular patterns of everyday thought.  So sometimes you end up going to places you wouldn’t otherwise, like a pub you’ve never been to, not to say that these are places you shouldn’t go.  It might be lame, and it might be really fun and memorable.  An evening with alcohol promises a bit of this “fun lottery” to add variety to an evening that might be otherwise pretty unexciting.

The night was pretty good altogether, but not exactly a blast, not that the drinkers had a blast.  I did get over my “left out” feeling pretty quickly.  I loved the fact that I was clearheaded at the end of the night, that I could talk to anyone without smelling or sounding like I’d been drinking, and that I could wake up at 8am feeling great.  I definitely felt very glad I didn’t drink.

My body felt good, especially my stomach.  I used to get little bouts of bloating, aching and other discomfort here and there, and my stomach has felt like a dream this whole two weeks.  I see now what the culprits are.

Nobody bugged me about not drinking, there was no peer pressure.  But they did ask why.  I told them I was doing an experiment so that I could see how important alcohol really is to me.  They all understood.  Two of my friends are pregnant at the moment so I had a few allies to begin with.

So the first two weeks have been pretty easy.  I have noticed certain patterns in when I think about making coffee or having a beer.  Overwhelmingly, the urge strikes when I’m working on something and I hit a snag.  The moment the job begins to look bigger than I expected, I immediately think of stopping to make coffee, or crack a beer.

I can feel my relationship to drugs changing.  I don’t know what role they will have after this is over, but I will not use them with the same abandon I have been for the last ten years.

Day 22 — Monday, July 27, 2009

Well I’m down to little more than a week left, and it really has not been difficult. There have been a few brief moments where I felt a bit left out, but any angst always went away fast, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any fun that only drugs would have allowed me to have.

I will say though, that part of the ease has been the knowledge that I will be allowed to indulge if I want after the 30 days is up. Not that it’s that appealing, but if my commitment had been six months, it may not have felt so easy on a day-to-day basis.

But such a lengthy abstinence is not necessary. Basically, I have two goals with this experiment:

1) Find out what I feel like physically after not having ingested any drugs for a while, and

2) Discover if my social life and working life have developed a need for caffeine and alcohol.

So far I’ve discovered that (1) I feel physically awesome almost all the time, and (2) I have been able to both work and have fun just the same without drugs.

I can’t say I’m not excited at the thought of having a few beers with my buddies after the experiment is over, or enjoying a traditional after-dinner coffee with my mom. I really do want to do those things, but mainly because I feel like I can bring a new sense of awareness and appreciation to the experience.

Of course, reintroducing drugs into my life means conscious moderation. Staying away from years-old habits for a month isn’t going to obliterate them. It would be easy to fall back into the same patterns if I didn’t take steps to prevent it, so I will be vigilant.

Saying Goodbye

With reasonable certainty I can say: gone are the days of drinking coffee at work, except maybe after a fancy lunch with a client. I do not want to use coffee as a productivity tool, it just doesn’t work very well. It supplies energy that must be paid back twofold in the afternoon, and it makes one animated at the cost of being focused. Surely my ‘base state’ is good enough for me to get my work done.

If my first coffee after the experiment is anything like my disastrous tea experience (see Day 8) I may find that I don’t want caffeine in my life at all. The tea caught me off-guard and made me completely loopy. Disoriented and uncomfortable. The opposite of relaxed. Of the two main drugs in question, caffeine is the least tempting.

Alcohol, on the other hand, still beckons. Not drunkenness, just a cold beer or two. It’s summertime and I’ll soon be ten thousand miles from my dear friends. I want to sit in the July evening air and have a beer with my friends. It’s one of those great simple pleasures I’m sure will flash through my head when I’m dying.

But gone are the days when I drink six beers in front of my friend’s TV, flipping through movies we’ve all seen. Staying sober has so many upsides, that it’s too costly to drink as casually as I have in the past.

Drunkenness no longer appeals really. Friday night, I went to a friend’s house. Of the six of us, two weren’t drinking (she’s pregnant), while the other four consumed beer and/or Grey Goose steadily all night. I drank Perrier. We played Rock Band and had an absolute blast.

My friends had a great time, same as me, only they began to slur their words eventually, bump into things, talk too loud and misunderstand a lot of things other people said. From the outsider’s perspective it was difficult to see what copious alcohol consumption could possibly be adding to their night.

Of course, that’s the way it is with drugs: the non-user generally only sees the bad parts. But I do have a hell of a lot of experience being drunk, and very often I have wished to be clearheaded again.

The Glass Ceiling

Once you start consuming, there is an expectation (at least in me) that a good time should just happen through the gradual course of the night. I think this expectation appears after a young person’s first few drinking experiences: things just get inexplicably fresh and fun when alcohol is introduced, and the drinker is always looking for that. The good times have a way of rolling in on their own.

But often they just don’t, and you’re left with a distinct feeling of incompleteness, of lack. And that’s when you drink more, or seek another kind of high, chemical or otherwise. Stimulation has to keep coming, you can’t just sit and be present with a swimming head full of ethanol.

In that state you can’t enjoy the subtle miracle of life, or the blossoming of the present moment. You can only enjoy form: the limited nature of things and events, not the mysterious and unmanifested backdrop behind it all.

Earth, not Heaven.

There is a whole higher realm of wonder and pleasure out there, one that I’ve become more and more in tune with over the past few years. It is the state of mind that produces the best experiences, and it’s completely asleep by the end of my third beer.

In those dreary instances I’ve had to admit to myself that alcohol doesn’t guarantee a good time by any stretch, and if the night’s not going so great it’s much easier to change that if you’re not drinking. You can go somewhere else without a taxi, you can socialize cleanly with people who aren’t drinking, and you can always call it a night and still get something done, read a book, or write something.

Anyway, at the end of Friday night, I drove my (very thankful) friends home. I hung out for a bit, watched, chatted, gratefully free of the chore of waiting for a taxi or a bus. I enjoyed their presence, and mine, and there was no neediness or heaviness, no sloppiness or difficulty.

The whole night cost me about eight dollars, including gas.

It was just so easy. I was free.

Day 29 — Monday, August 3rd

Well, I’m near the end. Wednesday, I can go out and have a beer, or make myself a coffee. I don’t think I’ll do either of those things. At this point I don’t feel drawn to drugs, but I am eager to have the option of using them if I want. I may just have a beer if I’m out, or a cup of coffee after dinner if someone offers. But I’m not planning to jump back into any habits.

I have a lot to say about what I’ve experienced, and I’ll do that on Thursday. For now I’ll just say that this month really flew by, and I broke some new ground socially. Best of all, I’ve developed the ability to go out with people who are drinking and not drink. This is a major victory for me, it represents a lot of open doors. I would recommend this to anybody who finds themselves running afoul of casual drug use.

Day 30 — Tuesday, August 4th

As of 8pm I was done. I broke the fast with two bottles of local brew. Had a weird experience.

You can read about it in my final report, linked below.


Awesome experiment. I learned so much about myself, and most importantly, I learned how to go out without drinking. May not sound like a feat to some of you, but you may not understand the culture I come from. I am a much more grounded and potent person suddenly.

There were some very interesting and unexpected discoveries. Take a look in my final report.

Thank you for tuning in.


Photo by James Cridland

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Dawn July 8, 2009 at 5:16 pm

Ohhh…coffee. Although I am unapologetically hooked on the stuff – I have experimented with giving this up intentionally and accidentally..the latter when it was not a part of my “ritual” and found that what I seek is the warm comfort of it more than the caffeine jolt….I recommend replacing it with herbal tea so you still feed that part of it without the ill effects of caffeine.
Alcohol…she too is a good friend of mine, though not in a problematic way…. I don’t have much advice but you don’t have to tell people…just get a glass of water with a lime and everyone assumes youre drinking along with them. It also helps to organize activity based events….suggest hiking in lieu of a bbq or bowling in lieu of a bar. Most folks love a better suggestion that the usual happy hour excursion.

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Tiffani W July 12, 2009 at 12:23 am


I’m really glad you decided to do this experiment; I’m super interested in finding out what results you come up with.

For me personally, I’ve overcome addictions to painkillers, self-mutilation, etc. I find that, in giving up a major addiction, I tend to fill in the void with lots of little distractions: a beer, a one night stand, watching movies/browsing the internet far longer than I actually feel like doing, and so on. I’m not sure what the solution is, other than mindfulness, which is something I keep trying to practice! Exercise seems to help some, along with having a specific goal – these two are tied together for me, since I want to join the Navy.

Anyway, I guess my point is: I understand the discomfort and the loneliness. I think it’s definitely related to quitting the two (relatively minor) things you usually do in response. Hopefully by learning how to sit with these feelings and not react to them, you can find the deeper meanings behind them, and maybe solve those problems instead of just blurring them out.

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David July 12, 2009 at 8:32 am

Dawn — I have actually done that before, started drinking shirley temples later on in the night, and nobody even knows you’re not drinking alcohol. I’ve noticed I still do have that compulsion to sip something, but it doesn’t need to be alcohol.

Tiffani W — I’ve noticed that same phenomenon: you take away one indulgence and you’re drawn to others even more strongly. I think you are absolutely right about the answer. Just sit with these cravings and observe them. I have been exercising (check out Experiment No. 2) and it keeps me feeling confident and accomplished.

One thing about refusing to take drugs is that it is much harder to blur out feelings. I used to just lean towards the weekends when I was not enjoying the week. The weekends promised respite from anything because if free time would not take things off my mind, alcohol would.

I have noticed I’ve been surfing the web for needlessly periods of time a little more than usual, and that makes me feel bad because I’m always whining about not having enough free time.

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brian July 13, 2009 at 2:55 pm

I am a coffee drinker, too, but I don’t think I have experienced too many problems because of this. Of course, I am in some form of denial, but I don’t drink it all the time, all day long like some people.

Anyways, I also love tea. And yes, black teas do have some caffeine, but most herbal teas don’t. This is one of mine, and my wife’s, favorite teas:


I also love ginger tea and licorice tea. There is lots of good stuff out there, have fun checking it out.

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Katherine July 21, 2009 at 10:58 pm

People often forget that Siddhārtha Gautama started his search for enlightenment through experiencing both indulgence and ascetism, then came to the conclusion that it is best to follow a middle path between these extremes.

The problem with absolutism of any sort, including dieting or getting off addictive substances, is that you can set yourself up for failure. You aim for absolute abstinence, then when you fail, you may feel so badly about yourself that you give up all together.

The other problem is that you may feel you are giving up pleasure in order to achieve a sort of moral victory. Even if you achieve this victory you may end up wondering was it worth it, then falling back to your old ways with no motivation to give it another go at another time. Taking things step by step and finding new and healthier pleasures, makes it easier to give up the less healthy pleasures.

Do not judge yourself for those times you “fall off the wagon”. Praise yourself for small victories. Feel content with persistent baby steps.

Fresh squeezed orange juice is not “empty calories”. It’s very healthy for you. I LOVE a good cup of peppermint tea in the morning. I have a glass of plum wine for my birthday and hot spiced mead for Christmas. Otherwise I don’t particularly drink.

The most insidious addictive substance I know of is processed sugar. I’ve had to work at weeding out all the unnecessary places it crops up. Toothpaste can have sugar in it for heaven’s sake!

Take care of yourself.

Peace and kindness,


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vomle July 21, 2009 at 11:33 pm

i’ve been missing that “chaos” feeling but its nice to feel clear headed and that kind of thing. i have had this urge to drink at the moment, i think its just some trigger things and the fact i’ve been feeling frustrated with some aspects in my life but i guess this feeling will pass.

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David July 22, 2009 at 7:11 am

Brian — I may still experiment with herbal teas. I’m kind of picky when it comes to tea though, most of the time I think “why am I drinking this?”

Katherine — I consider this something of a baby step. Absolutism would be quitting forever, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m over half done and it has not been difficult yet. Fresh squeezed orange just is awesome, but it is a real rarity in my world. Nobody serves it at restaurants and I’m not going to make it myself. Most juice is not worth drinking. That’s one thing I love about Mexico, it’s everywhere.

Vomle — That’s so cool that you’re still doing this too. It’s interesting to notice what your triggers are. I’ve gone out a couple of times, and felt an urge here or there, but whenever I picture myself drinking, it doesn’t really seem that appealing. The most tempting part is wanting to remove the “forbiddenness” of having a beer, not so much having a beer itself.

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Nate St. Pierre October 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Read almost all of the report – so how have your habits permanently changed (or not) almost 3 months later?

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David October 11, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Most definitely, Nate. I stopped drinking coffee in the morning, and now I occasionally have one after dinner. Alcohol doesn’t do much for me anymore, but I’ll have the occasional beer now and then. There have been a few times I’ve had more than a few, but it’s always premeditated and I don’t let it get out of control. I think I’ve come to a nice balance with each.

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Nate St. Pierre October 11, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Awesome. Very cool experiment.

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Ian June 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Great post. As a caffeine addict and almost-daily alcohol user – it makes me think – if I quit smoking (which has now been three years – after a 33 year, two pack a day addiction) – maybe I can quit caffeine, too.

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Jack F. July 12, 2010 at 11:59 am

Drink tonic on the ice. ;D

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Tobi March 26, 2011 at 12:52 am

Although I haven’t done this experiment (yet) I have been paying attention to my triggers. I had one just tonight! It’s usually either stress or pure enjoyment. Today I knew I had an unpleasant car ride going home… so I went to Starbucks. I had a bad run in with my boyfriend tonight and I felt like going to the coffee maker (which I still might do) even though I know a lot of it probably had to do with the 2 cups I had this morning and the vanilla latte I had in the late afternoon. So it’s not a daily habitual thing (e.i. I”m used to having coffee when I do this, or at this time) just whenever I’m under stress. And sometimes I’ll go to Starbucks just because it sounds good! So, I guess I need a more constructive way to handle stress, lolz. Thank you for posting this, I probably wouldn’t have thought about coffee that much.

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Tobi March 26, 2011 at 12:56 am

Oh, I just remembered one more thing. I’ll also make it or go to Starbucks when I’m bored. Drinking a fancy, delicious latte or even a regular cup at home is somehow entertaining, even if it doesn’t taste that good (despite how often I do, I’m not that good at making it for some reason… but I drink that mud or slightly tainted water anyway, lolz. Maybe I should look at the bag.. didn’t think of that >_>;; XD).

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Sal September 30, 2011 at 9:45 am

Very interesting stuff , David. I have started trying this. I am not a very frequent drug user. So I can see the benefits already.

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David A Adam July 24, 2015 at 7:03 pm

I think I might really like enjoy this creative type of thinking and then using it in life would be even better

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michael February 17, 2018 at 6:12 am

Best thing I have done is to quit drinking alcohol after a health scare (not over yet) recently popped up. Was a daily drinker for years but the current scare, whether related to past alcohol consumption or not, reminds me how precious our health and life really are. For those daily drinkers who don’t drink to intoxication, the cumulative effects of alcohol can still leave us with lasting injuries at a point, such as decreased sensation in the skin, nervous system issues, etc. Best to never get into the habit.

Coffee, on the other hand, is something I do not foresee giving up…unless I can get on the healthy tea train! I love ginger tea!

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