Caffeine addiction and caffeine withdrawal are real problems

by Mark Miller March 03, 2016

Caffeine addiction and caffeine withdrawal are real problems

About 90 percent of American adults take caffeine daily. Half or more of them are subject to caffeine withdrawal symptoms when they don’t get a fix, including headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, depression and irritability.

This may not seem like much of a problem because caffeine and coffee users are like Charlton Heston and his guns: They’ll give up caffeine when someone takes their coffee from their cold, dead hands.

Many people don’t even realize they have a physical dependence to caffeine because their consumption of it is so regular. If they don’t give up caffeine they don’t experience those bad symptoms and others, including difficulty concentrating, difficulty doing regular tasks at work, anxiety, muscle aches, nausea and cognitive and psychomotor impairments.

Caffeine memes

If you’re on social media for an hour you’ll notice the coffee memes. People kid around about how serious they are about their coffee, but in cafe veritas:

 

Go ahead, alter my mood

Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit did a fact sheet (PDF here) on caffeine dependence that calls it the most common mood-altering substance used in the world.

The fact sheets states:

The mood altering effects of caffeine depend on the amount of caffeine consumed and whether the individual is physically dependent on or tolerant to caffeine. In caffeine non-users or intermittent users, low dietary doses of caffeine (20-200 mg) generally produce positive mood effects such as increased well-being, happiness, energetic arousal, alertness, and sociability. Among daily caffeine consumers, much of the positive mood effect experienced with consumption of caffeine in the morning after overnight abstinence is due to suppression of a low-grade withdrawal symptoms such as sleepiness and lethargy (see section on Caffeine Withdrawal). Large caffeine doses (200 mg or greater) may produce negative mood effects. Although generally mild and brief, these effects include increased anxiety, nervousness, jitteriness, and upset stomach. However, individual differences in sensitivity and tolerance affect the severity and likelihood of experiencing negative effects.

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms may strike people who have doses as low as 100 milligrams a day. That’s equal to about 6 ounces of brewed coffee or two cans of soda. Experiments have shown that about half regular drinkers of coffee or consumers of caffeine in other products get withdrawal headaches when they abstain.

“When all withdrawal symptoms are considered, the incidence of caffeine withdrawal is higher,” the Johns Hopkins fact sheet states. “In a population-based random digit dial telephone survey study, 40 to 70% of individuals who tried to quit caffeine use reported experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Even a little bit helps

People who consume caffeine may be unaware of their physical dependence on the chemical because they get caffeine every day. Also, low doses, as little as 25 mg, can prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. So a caffeine “addict” may forego his usual three cups of coffee but get enough caffeine from a chocolate bar or energy bar to forestall the worst symptoms.

“Thus, some people may report never experiencing withdrawal because they unknowingly consumed small amounts of caffeine on days they thought they had been caffeine free. Finally, caffeine withdrawal symptoms (e.g., headache, nausea, muscle aches) may be misattributed to other causes or ailments (e.g., viral infection),” Johns Hopkins states.

Not a dangerous drug

Viter Energy doesn’t want to seem alarmist about caffeine. We love it. If you read the Johns Hopkins fact sheet it’s like reading about a controlled substance such as a narcotic drug.

WebMd has an article, on the other hand, that states:

Caffeine Myth No. 1: Caffeine Is Addictive

This one has some truth to it, depending on what you mean by “addictive.” Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, and regular use of caffeine does cause mild physical dependence. But caffeine doesn’t threaten your physical, social, or economic health the way addictive drugs do. (Although after seeing your monthly spending at the coffee shop, you might disagree!)

If you stop taking caffeine abruptly, you may have symptoms for a day or more, especially if you consume two or more cups of coffee a day. …

No doubt, caffeine withdrawal can make for a few bad days. However, caffeine does not cause the severity of withdrawal or harmful drug-seeking behaviors as street drugs or alcohol. For this reason, most experts don’t consider caffeine dependence a serious addiction.

Still, the American Psychiatric Association lists caffeine withdrawal as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

“Caffeine use can be associated with several distinct psychiatric syndromes: caffeine intoxication, caffeine withdrawal, caffeine dependence, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and caffeine-induced anxiety disorder,” the Johns Hopkins fact sheet says.

Little threat to health

The good news is caffeine does not threaten consumers’ health as far as cancer, heart disease or reproductive problems, though some types of coffee have lipids that may raise cholesterol. Also there may be a link between taking large amounts of caffeine and delayed conception and lower weight of babies at birth.

People may want to try to quit caffeine for several reasons. Some don’t want to have to be tied to a routine where they must get their two or three cups of java, tea or soda at certain times of the day. Others may balk at being classified as an addict of any kind. Still others may be pregnant and don’t want to risk their baby being underweight at birth.

Caffeine wean

If you want to cut the caffeine out of your diet, CaffeineInformer.com has some tips on getting off of it:

• Reduce caffeine consumption gradually. From experience, if you reduce your caffeine by half one week, and half again the next week, and then cut it out altogether, you may avoid headaches and other withdrawal symptoms. In the past, I’ve cut my coffee with one-half decaf for one week, and then drunk tea for one week and then stopped altogether and have avoided any physical symptoms.
• Take pain relievers.
• Drink water.
• Get exercise.
• Rest when tired.
• Eat healthfully.

 

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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