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Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world. Consuming too much Caffeine can have negative side effects and lead to an addiction.

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a natural Stimulant found in coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, soft drinks, over-the-counter medications, and weight loss aids. It is the most commonly used Psychoactive drug in the world and has physically and psychologically addictive characteristics. Caffeine withdrawal is even recognized as a medical condition by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Caffeine addiction is not technically considered a diagnosable condition; however, caffeine intoxication, caffeine withdrawal, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, and caffeine-induced insomnia are recognized as diagnosable conditions with specific, identifiable criterion. The DSM-5 states that the substance should be further studied due to its side effects and stimulating effects similar to other recreational drugs. Caffeine use disorder may be considered in the next DSM edition.

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Effects Of Caffeine

Light to moderate consumption is considered safe and may even provide some health benefits, such as increased alertness and energy, and fewer symptoms of depression. On the other hand, Caffeine functions as a Central Nervous System (CNS) Stimulant that directly affects brain cells and can cause many negative side effects. The substance is absorbed and distributed quickly throughout the body and takes about 30-60 minutes to reach its maximal concentration. Its effects can last between three and nine hours, depending on the amount consumed.

The chemical structure of Caffeine resembles that of a molecule called adenosine, which has a relaxing effect on the brain and can cause tiredness. When consumed, Caffeine fits into adenosine receptors in the brain, blocking them and preventing adenosine from binding to them. As a result, blocked receptors stimulate the release of other natural Stimulants, like dopamine, and allow them to work more effectively, increasing alertness and mental acuity.

250 to 300 mg of Caffeine a day is considered a moderate amount. An average 8-ounce cup of coffee contains around 100 mg, which is enough to increase alertness, concentration, and resting metabolic rate. Drinking more than 10 cups of coffee a day is considered excessive and can result in Caffeine poisoning. Daily consumption creates a physical addiction.

Symptoms of overuse include:

  • Restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Increased thirst
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Flushed facial skin
  • Increased urine production
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle twitching and shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

If someone suspects they have overdosed on Caffeine, they should call a local poison control center to determine whether hospitalization is needed. Mixing alcohol with Caffeine can be dangerous. Caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol thus decreasing the individual’s awareness of impairment causing them to drink more alcohol than they normally would. Mixing the two substances may also cause an increase in the potency of side effects from both and can cause agitation. Many other drugs interact with Caffeine, and a person should consult a health care provider or pharmacist about possible side effects of mixing Caffeine with medication.

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Caffeine Addiction

A person can develop a tolerance when consuming Caffeine on a regular basis, and their brain cells may begin to produce more adenosine receptors to compensate for the ones blocked by the substance. An increase in the number of receptors requires higher amounts of Caffeine in order to feel its effects, so people who regularly drink coffee or energy drinks build up a tolerance over time and will need more Caffeine to get the desired effect.

Cutting off consumption abruptly, or going “cold turkey,” leaves the brain with more receptors for adenosine to bind to and can produce strong feelings of tiredness, sometimes referred to as “crashing.”  Other symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Irritability
  • Muscle pain

Withdrawal symptoms can start 12 to 24 hours after the last dose, peak after a day or two, and then go down gradually. Symptoms can last up to nine days.

Although some experts believe regular use of Caffeine is considered more of a habit than an addiction, the fact that it shares meaningful symptoms with other addictive substances has led to further research. One report found that a significant amount of users develop symptoms often used by clinicians to diagnose addiction, such as:

  • Continued use despite negative consequences
  • A persistent desire (cravings) and preoccupation
  • Unsuccessful attempts to control use
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms when abstaining
  • No longer participating in previously enjoyed activities

Treatment For Caffeine Addiction

There is no standardized treatment for Caffeine addiction since it is not recognized as a diagnosable condition. Certain people should completely avoid the substance as it can worsen anxiety, exacerbate insomnia, and cause heart issues. The risk of addiction, like with any substance, is affected by many factors and can vary from person to person. If an individual has trouble limiting their Caffeine intake, or experiences withdrawal symptoms, they are most likely dependent and should talk to their physician about cutting back on use or slowly eliminating consumption entirely. If you feel like you or someone you love needs professional help dealing with a Caffeine addiction, contact a treatment provider today to find out what your options are.

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Ginni Correa

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  • Ginni Correa is a Latinx writer and activist living in Orlando, FL. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and double majored in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduation, Ginni worked as an educator in public schools and an art therapist in a behavioral health hospital where she found a passion working with at-risk populations and advocating for social justice and equality. She is also experienced in translating and interpreting with an emphasis in language justice and creating multilingual spaces. Ginni’s mission is to build awareness and promote resources that can help people transform their lives. She believes in the importance of ending stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse while creating more accessible treatment in communities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, crafting, and attending music festivals.

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Dayna Smith-Slade

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  • All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by Dayna Smith-Slade, a certified addiction professional.

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