Caffeine Addiction Is Real, Researchers Say

Caffeine Addiction Is Real, Researchers Say

Caffeine Addiction Is Real, Researchers Say

Caffeine Addiction Is Real, Researchers SayMillions of people across the United States have a caffeine habit, relying on coffee, tea, energy drinks or other sources of caffeine to get them going in the morning. Caffeine is an addictive substance, so most people who drink caffeinated beverages on a daily basis will develop a physical dependence on the compound.

The American Medical Association (AMA) states that moderate daily caffeine intake is not a serious health hazard. Many regular caffeine consumers, even those who have become dependent on caffeine, will not experience negative effects unless they find themselves forced to go without their regular cup of joe. When this happens, caffeine dependents will experience mild withdrawal symptoms that may include headaches, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, trouble concentrating and depressive symptoms. 

There is evidence that caffeine consumption should be limited among certain populations. Pregnant women are generally advised to drink less than 200 mg per day, and women with nursing infants are advised not to nurse until any caffeine in their system has been fully metabolized. Insomniacs are also warned away from caffeine, although caffeine metabolizes fully in about eight hours, so a morning cup of coffee should theoretically have no effect on someone’s ability to sleep at night. People with anxiety, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate or a bleeding disorder may also want to reduce or eliminate caffeine use, since it can temporarily exacerbate these conditions.

However, there is some evidence that caffeine can lead to more serious dependence in some people and even to addiction, or use disorder, in certain cases. In the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) identified caffeine use disorder as a condition that should be studied more thoroughly. With more data, the psychiatric community can better understand the extent to which caffeine consumption might constitute a genuine use disorder and not just a daily habit.

Gathering Evidence for Caffeine Use Disorder

Compulsive caffeine consumption that interferes with normal behavior is the baseline criteria for caffeine use to be considered a true disorder. However, there is more anecdotal than research-based evidence for compulsive caffeine use.

A recent study published in the Journal of Caffeine Research argues in favor of recognizing caffeine use disorder as a genuine condition. The study combined previous research on caffeine consumption in the United States in order to show just how widespread caffeine dependence has become. The authors of the study also used this previous research to create an outline of criteria for caffeine use disorder, and recommendations for areas of future study.

This study notes that caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world, and that 50 percent of people who consume caffeine regularly report trouble cutting down their caffeine intake or quitting altogether. Coauthor Laura Juliano, Ph.D., of the psychology department at American University, argues that this statistic alone is strong evidence that caffeine dependence can influence people’s behavior and disrupt their lives.

Juliano also points out that research has uncovered strong interest among regular caffeine consumers in formal treatment for caffeine use. She suggests that outside help for these people, similar to the support people receive to quit smoking, could be helpful.

Regulating Caffeine Products

One of the results that Juliano and other researchers in the field of caffeine use disorder hope to see is increased regulation of this popular drug. Currently, products that contain caffeine, including coffee beverages and energy drinks, are not required to reveal how much caffeine they contain. As a result, people may be consuming much more of the drug than they realize. They may also find it difficult to regulate their own caffeine consumption to a moderate amount (the American University study recommends no more than 400 mg per day).

Requiring product labels to reveal not just the presence of caffeine but also the quantity of caffeine would signal a change of thinking on this drug.

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