Can Coffee Be Addictive? (Video) - Try Coffee
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Can Coffee Be Addictive? (Video)

Do you find that you just can’t get going without your morning java? Feel irritable when you’re too long between cups of coffee, or nearly homicidal if you’re somehow without for a day or two? If so, you may be the type of person who jokes with your co-workers about how “addicted” you are to coffee, or even the type who genuinely wonders if maybe you’re a little too dependent on the bean and wondering, can coffee be addictive? And am I addicted to coffee?

Is This Even a Serious Question?

It sometimes seems as though we use the term “addicted” a little too freely. People say they’re “addicted” to certain types of candy, to watching a particular TV show, to a certain brand of makeup, to their cell phone … and on it goes. Most of the time we just laugh at these people.

We don’t laugh at people who say that they’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or inhalants, because we consider these to be legitimate addictions. When it comes to things like sex and gambling, the jury seems to be evenly split – if you asked anyone out of the general population (meaning persons not in the field of mental health), you would find some who would say that compulsive gambling and extreme promiscuity are behaviors over which a person may have little or no control. You would also encounter people who would insist that compulsive gamblers simply have poor impulse control, and that the supposed “sex addicts” are just making excuses for their behavior.

So where does poor impulse control, or poor character, end, and true addiction begin? And can coffee be addictive?

To begin to answer these questions, we first need to look at addiction itself – what is it? How does it work? What effect does addiction have on the mind of the addict?

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Can We Define Addiction?

If you’re asking yourself, “Can I be addicted to coffee?” you need to first proceed from at least a basic understanding of what constitutes addiction. According to Psychology Today, “Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”

The key word here is “consequences.” Are there consequences to eating all that forbidden candy? Do you eat until you vomit, feel horrible, and then go right back to shoving more of those delicious marshmallow bananas, peppermint jelly beans, chocolate truffles or whatever, into your mouth knowing that you’re just going to vomit again?

Do you keep on binge-watching that TV show even after your significant other tells you that if you don’t pay some attention to him or her, they’ll be out of your life, knowing that you’ll be heartbroken if they actually follow through? And almost, on some level, hoping that they actually do follow through, so you can get back to your show?

If you run out of your preferred brand of eyeliner, and you don’t have enough money to buy more, do you steal it instead of settling for another brand that you could afford, knowing that you could be arrested and suffer the humiliation of a shoplifting conviction?  Do you wander into traffic staring at your cell phone, even though you’re already been hit once and you know it could happen again, because the discomfort of putting your phone away outweighs the fear of broken bones, a concussion, or even death?

We think you get the idea. Most of us wouldn’t consider eating too much candy, over-indulging in television, obsessing over makeup and so on to be true addictions. And walking into traffic because you can’t stop looking at your phone is just stupid behavior.

What about gambling and sex, though? Are they true addictions, or just stupid behavior? Even the experts don’t really know, although there has been some research to suggest that such behaviors actually work on our brain in such a way as to deliver dopamine – a “feel good” neurotransmitter – when the behaviors are engaged in. We want the dopamine rush so desperately that we engage in the behavior even though we know that the rush is going to dissipate, we’re going to “come down,” and then we’re going to have to deal with the consequences of the behavior.

Probably nobody would ever suggest that alcohol and drugs are not truly addictive. You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who hasn’t known someone, perhaps in their own family, who has given over their life to drugs or alcohol, and suffered hugely as a result.

As to cigarettes, some addiction specialists believe that cigarettes are even more addictive than heroin.

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But Can Coffee Be Addictive?

If you’re wondering, can coffee be addictive, we’d suggest that you attend an AA meeting. Not necessarily because you’re worried about your alcohol consumption, but just to observe.

The minute you walk in the door at an AA meeting, unless you’ve chosen a “non-smoking” meeting, you’re probably going to be greeted by a cloud of cigarette smoke. Even in the non-smoking meetings, you’re going to see people clutching Styrofoam cups of coffee. So are alcoholics trading one addiction for another? One that’s less harmful?

Perhaps.

Why, though, while battling one addiction, do we substitute another?

It could be that substance abuse and other mental health issues go hand in hand. Alcoholics are usually self-medicating for underlying disorders like anxiety or depression, and having decided to forego one type of self-medication, may be substituting another, hence the reliance on coffee and cigarettes.

So can coffee be addictive? Maybe, especially in the context of substituting an addiction to coffee for an addiction to something else, like alcohol.

What Causes Addiction?

Whether you’re asking “Am I addicted to coffee?” or “Am I addicted to alcohol?” or asking if you’re addicted to something else entirely, you’re probably wondering what causes addiction in the first place.

The truth is that there’s no one, single answer. There is no one specific cause. Some addiction specialists believe that there may be a genetic component – in other words, if your father or mother, or someone else in your immediate family, has a predisposition toward addiction, you may also have that predisposition. Others believe that it has to do with an inability to tolerate even normal levels of stress – you just “can’t take it,” so you resort to a specific type of behavior in order to ease the stress level. Sometimes, that behavior involves substance abuse.

Of course other factors can also come into play. Abused children, for instance, often grow up to be substance abusers. And sometimes, circumstances like job dissatisfaction and bad relationships can send a person spiralling into the throes of addiction. So there’s no one cause of addiction – genetics, stress and emotional distress can also be factors.

One thing, though, that all addictions have in common, is the ability to cause feelings of hopelessness, guilt and shame. Sometimes these feeling are so strong that recovery from addiction can be very difficult – on some level, the addict believes that he or she does not deserve to recover.

How Can You Recover From Addiction?

Well, first put down your coffee!

Okay, we’re kidding. We still haven’t fully answered the question, “Can coffee be addictive? ” However, if your coffee consumption is making you unhappy, there is a good chance that t could be considered to be an addiction. We’ll talk more about that later, though.

In the meantime, let’s talk about recovery.

When it comes to recovering from addiction, some will tell you that it’s a path you have to walk alone – nobody but you can be responsible for your descent into addiction, or your recovery. Others will say that you can never hope to recover without a support system in the form of other people (family, friends, counselors, and perhaps a peer group made up of other addicts) who are also invested in your recovery.

The reality is that the road to recovery is ultimately up to the addict.

Whether you’re asking “Can coffee be addictive,” or “Do I need to get off meth,” the answer to the question “How do I do it” is the same – in the final analysis, it’s up to you. You have to get past the horrible wanting, the shame and guilt when you fail, the inability to function as a productive member of society, and get to a place where you can function on your own. Whether you do that without supports in place, or in the context of a rehab program, or with the love and support of your family and friends, you own your addiction and what you do with it is up to you.

Are All Addictions the Same?

They’re only the same in that they’re addictions. Any addiction can make you feel hopeless – like a failure. In the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter if you’re struggling with heroin or alcohol, or even if you’re asking yourself, “Am I addicted to coffee?” What matters is that you feel out of control. In that regard, all addictions are the same.

Can I Get Over My Addiction?

Whether it’s alcohol, or drugs, or just coffee, the path to recovery is the same. You have to admit that you have a problem, first off (more on the 12 steps to recovery later) and then decide to do something about it. Chances are that you’ll slip a couple of times – and maybe several times. But you shouldn’t think of those “slips” as being the end of the road. Studies have shown that if you pick yourself up and move on, pick yourself up and move on, pick yourself up and move on – well, you get the idea – the instances of relapse will become fewer and further between. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you can say, in all honesty, “I am recovering!”

Do I Have an Addictive Personality?

Let’s think back to what we talked about earlier on – the misuse of the word “addicted.” Are you really addicted to chocolate? To TV? To porn? We use the term “addictive” all the time, as in “This TV show is so addictive,” or “I couldn’t put that book down because it was so addictive!”

When we use the terminology in that way, in an everyday context we’re actually using it in a positive way, and by doing so, we devalue the word’s true meaning. It would be hard to say, for instance, that if someone says “I’m addicted to heroin,” it would be helpful, acceptable, or appropriate for someone else to say “Oh, I know how you feel – I’m addicted to watching General Hospital!”

So what we’re getting back to here is how we define addiction. Where does an enthusiasm for something cross over into addiction?

It crosses over when the enthusiasm stops enhancing your life and starts taking away from it. It crosses over when the enthusiasm becomes an unhealthy preoccupation that interferes with everything else in your life. It crosses over when you can’t think of anything other than the behavior you want to indulge in, when it interferes with your relationships, and when you feel miserable when you can’t indulge in the behavior. It crosses over when your need to indulge in the behavior overrides everything else.

So, can coffee be addictive? Take a look at what we just said in the preceding paragraph. Are you late to work because you feel that you can’t start your day without coffee? Like, to the point where you might lose your job if you’re late one more time because you were in the drive-thru at Starbucks? Do you fight with your significant other because you have to stop for a coffee and he or she doesn’t see the need? Do you miss the first inning of your kid’s baseball game because you had to stop for coffee? If this sounds like you, then you might want to answer “Yes” to the question “Am I addicted to coffee. ” Coffee is interfering with your life, so it very well could be an addiction.

On the other hand, if you’re saying “I just can’t get through the day without my Starbucks, and besides, what is in Starbuck’s coffee that is so addictive?” and then you laugh and go about your day, you’re probably not addicted. An enthusiasm adds to your life. An addiction takes away from it. If you feel miserable and panicky when you can’t get your coffee, then that’s not an enthusiasm – it’s an addiction.

How Harmful is Coffee Addiction?

We’ve already compared coffee addiction to other addictions, and the reality is that whether or not your coffee habit is a true addiction, it’s not likely to lead you to end up dead in a ditch or a flophouse. That doesn’t necessarily mean, though, that it’s not a true addiction.

Ask yourself these questions – Do I feel out of control when I don’t get my coffee? If I had to choose coffee, or the people who matter to me, would I choose coffee over them? Does my need for coffee interfere with enjoying other things in my life? Am I really serious about wondering, can you get addicted to coffee?

If you’ve answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then you might be a coffee addict.

But Is It Just a Lifestyle Issue?

You might be surprised to learn that according to a recent study, about 47% of Americans suffer from one form or another of an addictive disorder. For sure some addictions are highly problematic – cocaine and heroin, for instance – but there are other addictions as well. You could be, according to the study, addicted to eating, exercising, working, shopping, using the internet and more.  In short, you could be addicted to just about anything!

Of course, eating, working, shopping and so on are all components of everyone’s lifestyle. It’s only when they’re carried to extremes that the potential for addiction occurs. The trouble with addiction is that it can be self-perpetuating – in other words, if you have one addiction, you’re more likely to develop others. Can coffee be addictive in the context of co-occurring addictions? If you think of the people you know who can’t seem to manage without their coffee and also work ridiculous hours, or those who absolutely must have a cigarette along with their coffee, then it looks as though co-occurring addiction when it comes to coffee is a very real possibility.

What is an Addictive Personality?

You have probably heard the term “addictive personality.” Usually, the term is used to denote someone who has certain personality traits that are believed to be predictors for addiction. For instance, people with poor impulse control are often labeled as having addictive personalities, as are people who are neurotic or overly anxious.

This type of labeling actually serves no useful purpose. As we’ve seen in the preceding material, there are a number of factors that can affect a person’s propensity for addiction. It’s possible that neuroses or anxiety could be among those factors, but the fact remains that there are plenty of people who are neurotic and prone to act on impulse who do not have addictions.

The term “addictive personality” is actually more useful when applied to what we might call “serial addicts.” These are people who can overcome one addiction, only to replace it with another – the way, for instance, that so many AA members give up alcohol, but consume copious amounts of coffee. Even then, though, we have to ask, “Is it addiction, or simply habit?” Probably most alcoholics would tell you that their alcohol consumption made them miserable, but their coffee consumption has no such effect. In that context, then, their coffee intake is not problematic – it lacks one of the essential components of addiction, which is the unhappiness that goes hand in hand with consumption.

How Can Coffee Be Addictive?

As we have seen, just about anything has the potential to be addictive, if a person is prone to addiction. Coffee is no exception.

If you find it hard to get going without your morning coffee, though, you may be addicted physically as well as emotionally. This is because coffee contains caffeine, and caffeine is classified as a drug. Certainly it’s a commonly used drug, and not one that carries with it any social stigma attached to users, but it is still a drug, and as such, could be addictive.

Caffeine is found not just in coffee, but in tea, hot chocolate and cola drinks as well. It is a stimulant that can help you to feel more alert, boost your metabolism and improve your mood. As little as 100mg of caffeine – the amount, more or less, found in an 8-ounce cup of coffee – will produce these effects in most people. You might find it surprising to learn that the effects of a single cup of coffee can last a long time, too – anywhere from 3 to 9 hours.

What gives you the boost? Caffeine works by preventing adenosine from reaching your brain. Adenosine is a molecule that works to relax your central nervous system. When the reception of adenosine is blocked by caffeine, you feel stimulated, more alert, and less tired. Most of us appreciate the increased performance that coffee consumption provides.

So where does the potential for addiction come in? It starts with regular coffee consumption. Your brain may perceive caffeine as interfering with its normal function, and begin producing more adenosine receptors. Then you need to up your coffee intake to compensate for the increase in adenosine. Then the brain produces more adenosine receptors, and it’s a constant cycle. This is why you’ll often hear people who consume a lot of coffee say that it doesn’t keep them awake – they’ve built up a tolerance, and their brain keeps doing its job making sure that it gets enough adenosine.

This cycle is also why people who suddenly find themselves without coffee feel exhausted and cranky. The brain is no longer getting caffeine, and there are all those extra adenosine receptors still hanging around. The person who isn’t getting his or her coffee wants to feel good again, and how is that going to happen? By going in search of coffee. That’s how physical addiction to coffee works.

Can coffee be addictive behaviorally as well? In a manner of speaking, it can. You could compare it to people who consume alcohol with their friends, and say that they’re “social drinkers.” They can take or leave alcohol, but if their friends are drinking, they do, too. It’s usually because they feel less a part of the social environment if they just order a Coke if all their friends are consuming beer. You might feel similarly out of place if you meet your friends at Starbucks and you ask for a glass of milk, so you order a coffee even though it’s milk you really want.

Behavioral addiction is different from physical addiction in that it does not have any connection with what goes on in your brain – your brain’s chemistry doesn’t change. In that context, behavioral addiction is not a true addiction, even though it can be hard to break. It’s not easy to stand out from the crowd and be the Coke drinker when your friends are into the suds. Feeling a need to conform can have elements of addiction, in that it can make you feel bad about your behavior, but it doesn’t usually come with the horrible sense of shame and uselessness that a genuine addiction carries.

Now you know the basics of how coffee can become addicted. But when does a person tip over from being a consumer – even a heavy consumer – of coffee, into being an addict?

When Does Coffee Become Addictive?

We know that the caffeine in coffee has an effect on the brain, and that the changes in a coffee drinker’s brain can lead to dependency. However, it’s not really known exactly how long it takes for these changes to lead to true addiction – in some people, it never does, because some people are better able to withstand the side effects of irritability and drowsiness that can occur when caffeine leaves the body. Others may have a lower tolerance.

The likelihood of addiction to coffee is based on the same factors as for any other drug – genetics, emotional issues, work and family stresses, etc. The time frame involved can be similar as well. You have probably heard people who suffer from alcoholism offer up different stories – some will tell you that they were hooked from the first drink. Others will tell tales of social drinking that escalated due to some traumatic life event. It’s the same with users of illicit drugs – the science seems to suggest for instance, that it takes about three weeks for an addiction to cocaine to develop, while some users will tell you that they became addicted the instant they snorted that first line.

With coffee, it takes a while for your brain to start producing extra adenosine receptors. However, you could experience drowsiness, irritability, poor concentration and a headachy feeling in as little as 12 hours after drinking a cup of coffee. You’re probably not an addict at that point, but if your solution to those feelings is to reach for another cup of coffee, you could be starting down the road to addiction.

Can we really compare an addiction to coffee with stronger addictions, though? Those people at the AA meetings, clutching their Styrofoam cups, would probably tell you that you’re an idiot for even suggesting such a thing. So would the heroin addict, with track marks all over his limbs. Most health professionals would be in agreement, with most saying that caffeine is not addictive to the same extent as other substances, and some claiming that it is not addictive at all.

When considering coffee as an addiction when compared with other substances, it’s worth noting that most heavy users of alcohol and recreational drugs at one time or another struggle with quitting. They may find it very difficult, and may relapse several times. With coffee, most people don’t even try to curtail their consumption. If they do experience jitters from too much coffee, they usually cut back. They don’t typically experience the extreme highs and the devastating lows that come with over-indulgence in alcohol or illicit drugs.

Withdrawal symptoms from excessive caffeine use are also considerably less difficult to handle than those that go along with addiction to alcohol or hard drugs. Most of the time, too, it’s possible to kick the coffee habit without the need for professional intervention.

So when would your coffee use get to the point where it could be considered an addiction? Probably not for at least a few weeks. Even then, with a dose of aspirin in the mornings to combat the headachy feeling, and some nice, relaxing chamomile tea to ease the jitters, you’ll find getting off coffee a lot easier than quitting alcohol or recreational drugs.

Keep in mind, too, that one of the key components of addiction is this – it’s making you unhappy. If your coffee use isn’t making you unhappy, then it’s probably not something you need to worry about, even if you do think you can’t give it up.

What If You Do Want to Quit Coffee?

Perhaps you find you’re feeling on edge from drinking too much coffee, and that’s a good reason to at least cut back. Most health professionals believe that 5 cups is as much coffee as anyone can consume in a single day without experiencing side effects. Or maybe you’re pregnant or nursing, and your doctor has told you that it’s not known how much caffeine you can safely consume without risking harm to your baby. You could be taking medication that could interact badly with caffeine. Maybe you just want to save money by not stopping for coffee on your way to work.

These are all good reasons to cut back, or even to stop drinking coffee. In order to succeed, though, you need to have a plan, and you need to stick with it.

One of the most effective strategies is simply to taper off. You can do this by using less in the way of coffee granules if you’re using a good instant coffee. If you prefer the brewed variety, you could start by using a quality blend and using half regular strength and half decaf from the same manufacturer. As time goes by, you can increase the proportion of decaf until you’re brewing pure decaf. You’re not giving up coffee – just the caffeine it contains. And of course if your goal is to save money, you’ll be doing it by brewing at home – you can always fill up a vacuum bottle to take to work with you.

 

Another thing you can do is ask for help. This might be difficult if you’re living with someone who thinks that life isn’t complete without coffee, but if your roomie or significant other would also like to quit or cut back, you might be able to sell them on the “tapering off” idea. If they’re determined that they need their caffeine, then you might consider separate coffee makers. Most kitchens have enough counter space to accommodate a couple of compact, single serving coffee machines.

One thing you need to be careful about, though, is trading in your coffee for something that could contain as much caffeine, if not more. Remember what we said earlier on – you find caffeine not just in coffee, but in tea, hot chocolate and cola drinks. If you think that you have all the bases covered by eliminating all of these from your diet, you could be mistaken. You are probably aware that you will find caffeine in energy drinks, but did you know that even non-cola sodas can be full of caffeine? One such is Mountain Dew, with 55 milligrams of caffeine per can, and even more in their Voltage and Kickstart varieties.

When you’re trying to kick coffee, it’s also a good idea to increase your water intake. For one thing, it can help satisfy your oral cravings – sometimes what you want isn’t really so much coffee, it’s just the pleasure of putting something in your mouth. Get yourself a nice insulated water bottle, and fill it up with tap water if yours is palatable, or a good bottled water if it isn’t. Your body will thank you, and your headaches from ditching caffeine will ease more quickly.

There’s also something else you might try.

Should You Consider a 12-Step Program?

We’ve compared coffee addiction to alcohol and drugs a few times during this article. We have also pointed out that an addiction to coffee probably cannot reasonably be compared to such addictions. However, we have also acknowledged that if using anything, including coffee, makes you miserable, then it can indeed be considered an addiction. With that in mind, if your coffee use is making you feel as though your life is not worth living, you might benefit from the same program that has helped alcoholics, drug users, problem gamblers and others in the grip of problematic behaviors.

The 12-step model originated in 1938, when Bill Wilson wrote his “Big Book” which contained his vision of a 12-step approach to combating alcohol addiction. Over time, the 12 steps became modified and more generalized to include other addictions. They’ve been re-worked and re-phrased several times over the years, but the original intent remains the same – you work the 12 steps in order to recover from addiction. From time to time you might slip, and then you’ll have to go back and do the steps over until you get it right. You might also work two or more steps at the same time.

The approach is faith-based, but even non-religious people have been known to benefit from the 12 steps. Here they are, loosely paraphrased from various sources.

  1. I have accepted that I am powerless over my addiction – my life has become unmanageable.
  2. I have come to believe that a power greater than I could restore me to sanity.
  3. I have decided to turn over my will and my life to the care of a higher power, as I understand it.
  4. I have made a searching, fearless moral inventory of myself.
  5. I have admitted to God, and to at least one other human being, the exact nature of my wrongs.
  6. I am completely wiling to have God remove my character defects.
  7. I have humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.
  8. I have made a list of everyone I have harmed, and I am willing to make amends to all of them.
  9. I have made amends to those people whenever possible, except when to do so would cause them, or others, additional pain.
  10. I have continued to take personal inventory and admit when I was wrong.
  11. I have sought, thorough prayer and meditation, to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand him, praying for knowledge of his will and the power to carry it out.
  12. I have had a spiritual awakening as a result of this steps, and now I try to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all of my affairs.

One thing that some people find problematic about the 12 steps is the admission of being powerless. They argue that for someone whose problem is feeling powerless, admitting to that almost constitutes a predisposition for failure. If that’s how you feel, and if the heavy emphasis on religion bothers you, you could do it this way.

  1. I have accepted that I need to take power over my addiction, because my life has become unmanageable.
  2. I have come to understand that I need to be restored to sanity.
  3. I have decided to get all the help I need, be it through a higher power, or simply the love and support of my friends, family and counselors, and others who are fighting the same battle.
  4. I have made a searching, fearless moral inventory of myself.
  5. I have admitted to at least one other person that I have messed up, and told them in exactly what ways I messed up.
  6. I have decided to change.
  7. I am working on overcoming my shortcomings.
  8. I have made a list of everyone I have harmed, and I am willing to make amends to all of them.
  9. I have made amends to those people whenever possible, except when to do so would cause them, or others, additional pain.
  10. I have continued to take personal inventory and admit when I was wrong.
  11. I have made every possible effort to be a better person.
  12. As a result of what I have learned by working these steps, I now try to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all of my affairs.

The great thing about the 12 steps is that they can work for anyone, with any addiction. And as you can see, they’re easily modified if you have an addiction other than alcohol or narcotics, and they’re also easily adjusted for people who do not believe in God, or who are unwilling to say that they have no power over their addiction.

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Welly Vacuum Insulated Infusing Stainless Steel Bamboo Water Bottle, Double Wall, Wide Mouth, BPA Free (Black, 18oz)
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Conclusion

Can coffee be addictive? Yes. Anything can be addictive given your personality, background and emotional state.

Are you addicted to coffee? Maybe you are, and maybe you’re not. If you love coffee, and you don’t really want to stop drinking it, then don’t – it’s making you happy! That might be a habit, but it’s not an addiction.

Related Content:

What Does Green Coffee Bean Do For Weight Loss and Other Health Issues? (Video)
Do You Know How Much Caffeine is in Coffee?
How Much Caffeine is in Coffee Alternatives? The Answers May Surprise You!
What Are The Benefits of Coffee?

On the other hand, if your coffee use is making you unhappy and interfering with living your life the way you want to live it, you might have an addiction, and you might have to take steps to overcome it. You’re really the only person who can answer the question “Am I addicted to coffee?”

If you are, you can cut back – fortunately, coffee isn’t usually something that people have to give up entirely. If you’re not, then just enjoy – Ben Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” The same goes for coffee! So will you be taking it black, or with cream and sugar?

Last update on 2019-11-18 at 00:40 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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