Caffeine isn’t addictive, but it sure is habit-forming. You don’t hear about jonesing coffee addicts robbing stores and hijacking motorists to get money for a fix. That’s because while caffeine does cause dependence, it isn’t in the same category as opiates or alcohol.
That’s a good thing that caffeine, unlike alcohol and drugs, does not cause disease, crime, financial ruin, automobile and other types of accidents and a breakdown in social interactions because in the United States 90 percent of people take it in one form or another.
“Caffeine has minor-league side effects compared to real addictive drugs,” Dr. Peter Martin of Vanderbilt University medical school told Live Science. Martin is director of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt. He says coffee is not highly addictive.
People joke about being addicted to caffeine, but for some (not all) users it’s more of a physical dependence than an addiction. The dictionary calls addiction “a compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance.”
When a drug addict or alcoholic doesn’t get his poison, he may experience anxiety, jumpiness, shaking, trembling and fatigue. The addict who is unable to get a fix can sweat, vomit, lose sleep, lose appetite and have headaches and irritability.
The National Council on Drug Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has a long list of the signs of addiction here.
Unlike true addicts, caffeine users don’t lose control of their habit, shun the society of friends and family, take risks and commit crimes to get their caffeine, and they don’t change their appearance, neglect hygiene and have big personality changes.
They do share some traits with outright addicts, including building a tolerance for caffeine where they need more of it to get the same stimulating effects as they had the first few times they used it. They also may build a dependence to it to where they feel some withdrawal symptoms if they don’t get their usual dose.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms for some but not all regular users include headaches, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating and sleepiness. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists caffeine withdrawal as a mental health condition.
And the Journal of Caffeine Researchsaid in a 2013 article:
Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world. Although consumption of low to moderate doses of caffeine is generally safe, an increasing number of clinical studies are showing that some caffeine users become dependent on the drug and are unable to reduce consumption despite knowledge of recurrent health problems associated with continued use. Thus, the World Health Organization and some health care professionals recognize caffeine dependence as a clinical disorder.
The DSM-5 manual says caffeine use disorder, as it is called, requires further study. The journal article says that disorder is marked by:
(1) persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control caffeine use, (2) continued caffeine use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by caffeine, and (3) characteristic caffeine withdrawal syndrome or caffeine use to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
The prevalence of caffeine use disorder is unknown because the most recent studies on caffeine intake among U.S. users were done more than 15 years ago.
That Live Science article cited above states that regular caffeine users who wake up groggy, depressed and tired are actually experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
But WebMD has an article about caffeine myths that states Caffeine Myth No. 1: Caffeine Is Addictive. The article says:
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!)
Viter Energy Mints recently featured a blog on caffeine cycling that describes how users stop taking caffeine temporarily so they can get the euphoria and thrill of the stimulant that they got at first. The blog states:
Caffeine cycling for chronic users brings back that old black magic. If you’re a regular or chronic caffeine user, you may have noticed the stimulating effects of the substance aren’t as strong as when you first started to take caffeine. If you want to experience that near-bliss you used to get from that first cup of java, you can do caffeine cycling where you stop taking it for a while and then start again.
People also do cycling for marijuana, which is considered addictive for a small minority of users. Only about 9 percent of people even become dependent on marijuana, or 17 percent of people who begin using it in their teens.
Needless to say, cycling is not an option for users of Oxycontin and similar drugs, heroin and other opiates, alcohol, methamphetamines and cocaine. Once you’re addicted to that stuff, you need to stop all use and never touch it again or almost certainly risk a relapse.
And unlike alcohol and drug addicts, caffeine users need not continually increase their dose because they’re not trying to get high. Alcoholics, for example, drink more and more alcohol to get drunk (at least during early- and middle-stage alcoholism). But caffeine users can take their usual dose of, say, two cups of coffee and leave it at that.
To get off caffeine, take it in smaller and smaller daily doses for a couple of weeks. You will find that you won’t get headaches or be extremely sleepy if you wean yourself from caffeine. But you may miss the ritual and flavor.
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Caffeine appears to raise blood pressure, in some people in the short term and in others in the long term. This is an important question because 80 percent of Americans drink coffee every day and about 90 percent of people worldwide consume caffeine in one product or another.
It's also an important question because high blood pressure can cause strokes or heart attacks.
Peppermint is healthful and stimulating when eaten, drunk, inhaled or applied to the skin, researchers are finding. The ancients of Greece knew it, as did Renaissance English healers. It sounds too good to be true, that a common candy ingredient that tastes so good is also good for what ails you.
Is there a better-tasting candy than a mint? Some might say chocolate tastes better. But those who say it have all the finesse and sophistication of a rough brute and obviously have such bad taste that they cannot tell the difference between a merely good confection (chocolate) and one that is transcendent (mint). (Just kidding! To each his own.). But really, in a peppermint patty, what is given top billing? Hint: They're not called chocolate patties.
Whatever you do, don't begin using caffeine to treat ADHD without a doctor's advice. Parents with children with ADHD especially should take this advice to heart. Caution should be used by other people who have other health problems, such as anxiety, high blood pressure, glaucoma or heart, liver or kidney disease.
One doctor says: "Caffeine is not the answer for real, bonafide ADHD. I don't want parents to be deluded into a false sense of security that if I just go to the local Starbucks, I'm going to cure my son or daughter's ADHD."