Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, appearing in coffee beverages, sodas, chocolate and newer products, like gum and energy drinks.
For millions of people, caffeine can quickly become an addiction and cause serious withdrawal symptoms if the person tries to curb the habit.
Research, including a study from Johns Hopkins Medicine, is exploring caffeine addiction as a potentially serious disorder and may prompt new methods for recovery.
The Johns Hopkins Medicine study may have also helped caffeine addiction to join the ranks of dozens of other disorders included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. The official collection of recognized mental disorders, the manual now includes caffeine related disorders including intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder and caffeine-related sleep disorders.
Results of the Johns Hopkins study on caffeine report that withdrawal symptoms are likely when people don’t partake of their typical caffeine amounts, ranging from headache, tiredness, inability to concentrate and flu-like complaints. Findings from the study are published in the October 2004 edition of Psychopharmacology and help point to a declaration of caffeine withdrawal as an official disorder.
Prior to the study, medical experts lacked a science-based platform for addressing caffeine addiction. Exploring nearly 60 caffeine studies and nine research surveys on withdrawal from caffeine, the effort may finally validate caffeine addiction as a diagnosable condition.
The outcomes could be significant, as information from the 2010 Coffee Statistics Report says on a global level at least 400 billion cups of java are consumed annually. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, which creates the feelings of alertness many users seek. However, caffeine can eventually over-work the adrenal glands, causing the user’s body to stop connecting to its own biological sources of energy, like adrenalin.
Overuse of caffeine, sometimes called caffeine toxicity, is linked to agitation, mood swings, insomnia and a sense of mental fogginess. Some people may experience heart rate changes, increased allergies or cravings for certain foods.
Five categories of withdrawal symptoms were identified, including extreme tiredness, mood problems, depression, nausea and muscle aches with stiffness. Half of the people included in the study reported headaches when reducing their caffeine consumption and 13% said they were impaired to the point of job and life-function problems.
For most participants in the study, withdrawal symptoms began within a range of 12-24 hours after quitting caffeine consumption, and lasted up to nine days. In one of the most notable findings of the study, people who were accustomed to doses as small as one cup of coffee per day, containing about 100 mg of caffeine, also reported withdrawal problems.
Furthermore, many caffeine users may continue consuming to avoid negative physical or psychological feelings, even at an unconscious level. It is believed that the morning “high” people get from caffeine could be linked to the withdrawal side effects that build up during a night of sleep.
Experts recommend a gradual decline in caffeine usage to help curb withdrawal symptoms. A few days may be long enough to recover from caffeine withdrawal, and the more knowledgeable the user is about what to expect when coming off of caffeine, the smoother the withdrawal process will be.