Habitual coffee drinkers genuinely do wake up and smell the coffee

Habitual coffee drinkers genuinely do wake up and smell the coffee
© iStock/seb_ra

Did you know that habitual coffee drinkers are not just more sensitive to the odour of coffee and faster to identify it, but the more they crave coffee, the better their ability to smell it will become?

According to researchers, habitual coffee drinkers can sniff out even tiny amounts of coffee and are faster at recognising the aroma, compared to non-coffee drinkers.

The first study of its kind

Led by Dr Lorenzo Stafford, an olfactory expert in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth, UK, this study is the first evidence to have found to prove coffee addicts are more sensitive to the smell of coffee. And, the results could open the door to potential new ways of using aversion therapy to treat people addicted to substances with a distinct smell, such as tobacco and cannabis.

Lorenzo explains: “We found the higher the caffeine use, the quicker a person recognised the odour of coffee.

“We also found that those higher caffeine users were able to detect the odour of a heavily diluted coffee chemical at much lower concentrations, and this ability increased with their level of craving. So, the more they desired caffeine, the better their sense of smell for coffee.

“We have known for some time that drug cues (for example, the smell of alcohol) can trigger craving in users, but here we show with a mildly addictive drug, that craving might be linked to an increased ability to detect that substance.

“Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug and these findings suggest that changes in the ability to detect smells could be a useful index of drug dependency.”

The ability of smelling and responding

The team wanted to examine if there were any differences in the ability of people to smell and respond to the odour of coffee, depending on whether or not they were big coffee drinkers. The results point firmly to a link, with habitual coffee drinkers being more sensitive to the smell of coffee, and the smell being linked to their cravings.

“More interestingly, higher craving, specifically that which measured the ability of caffeine to reverse withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, was related to greater sensitivity in the odour detection test,” Stafford said.

Ultimately, the results showed the caffeine consumers were more sensitive to the coffee odour but crucially, did not differ in sensitivity to the non-food odour.

The findings suggest sensitivity to smell and its links to craving could be used to help break some drug use behaviours, including addiction to tobacco or reliance on cannabis, Stafford said.

Previous research showed those who were trained to associate an odour with something unpleasant later showed greater discrimination to that odour, which provides evidence of a possible model for conditioned odour aversion.

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