If you can’t get by without that morning jolt or afternoon pick-me-up, you could have a caffeine addiction. Here’s how you can know for sure.
Do you rely on your morning coffee to get you out the door — and reach for another cup as soon as you get to work? You could be feeding a caffeine addiction. And once you’re hooked, kicking the habit can be tough.
You might not realize it, but caffeine is the most common mood-altering drug in the world. It is a mild stimulant that works on the central nervous system. Just ask any java junkie — caffeine can make you more alert, give you an energy boost, and keep you from snoozing when you need to stay awake.
Caffeine can be found in many products like tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and some over-the-counter medications, but coffee is the leading dietary source of caffeine among American adults. Generally, three 8-ounce cups of coffee per day is considered moderate consumption and won’t hurt you, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, excessive caffeine use — more than 10 8-ounce cups of coffee per day — can produce physical side effects including tremors, anxiety, insomnia, and a “crash” of extreme fatigue once the caffeine starts to wear off.
Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal
The brain fog and headache that some people get if they don’t have their typical amount of coffee or other caffeinated beverage might actually be a sign of caffeine withdrawal syndrome, according to a recent study.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University Medical School in Baltimore and American University in Washington, D.C., reviewed 66 experimental and survey studies on caffeine withdrawal. They identified these common symptoms:
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Depression and irritability
- Difficulty concentrating
- Flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches
Typically, symptoms began 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine and peaked within one to two days. Some subjects reported symptoms that were so severe they couldn’t work. Generally, the heaviest consumers of caffeine reported the most bothersome symptoms, but even people who missed 100 milligrams, or one regular cup of coffee, experienced withdrawal symptoms. Study participants agreed that avoiding withdrawal helped motivate them to continue using caffeine.
Caffeine Tolerance Is on the Rise
Daniel Evatt, PhD, research fellow in the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, says people can stop feeling the effects of caffeine, or become tolerant, leading to the need for more and more to feel alert. But Dr. Evatt also points out that most people find a comfortable level and stick with that. “It usually doesn’t keep going up forever, and not all caffeine users develop tolerance.” However, high doses of caffeine (more than 750 milligrams over the course of every day) can produce complete tolerance. That means the drug no longer has a discernible effect.
The Warning Signs of Caffeine Addiction
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms and tolerance are signs that you are becoming physically dependent on caffeine, Evatt says. He also notes that if you are experiencing the following signs and symptoms, you may have developed an unhealthy caffeine addiction:
- You experience insomnia, frequent headaches, or difficulty concentrating
- You continue to use caffeine despite being told to stop by a health professional
- You have difficulties cutting down or quitting even if you want to
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) doesn’t recognize caffeine addiction as a mental disorder, but it may be included in the updated DSM-V. The World Health Organization’sInternational Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) does recognize caffeine addiction as a disorder.
Kicking the Caffeine Habit
Evatt is part of a Johns Hopkins team working on a caffeine dependence treatment program. If you want to quit, “I would first recommend becoming aware of how much caffeine you are consuming daily,” Evatt says, adding that many people underestimate their use. He advises people against trying to quit caffeine cold turkey. “Withdrawal headaches can last days in some individuals,” he says. Instead, cut down slowly to lessen withdrawal symptoms.
The American Dietetic Association gives these tips for cutting down on caffeine:
- Mix decaffeinated coffee in with regular coffee
- Drink a latte with more low-fat milk than coffee
- Brew tea for less time
- Pick soft drinks without caffeine
If these measures don’t work and you think your caffeine consumption is turning into a troublesome caffeine addiction, it might be time to find an addiction specialist for treatment.
Copyright © 2012 Everyday Health, Inc.