Jul 14

Caffeine Use Disorder and Recovery

The negative effects of caffeine are often not recognized as such because it is a socially acceptable and widely consumed drug that is well integrated into our customs and routines. And while many people can consume caffeine without harm, for some it produces negative effects, physical dependence, interferes with daily functioning, and can be difficult to give up, which are signs of problematic use. Laura Juliano, American University psychology professor, regarding caffeine use disorder

As it currently stands, the American Psychiatric Association considers caffeine use disorder an official condition—albeit one “requiring further study.” (See this previous post and this one.) But, still, there’s no question that certain levels of caffeine use prove problematic over time for many individuals.

A study of caffeine users by Laura Juliano and others found, according to Romeo Vitelli, PhD (Psychology Today):

  • 96% of the participants had experienced caffeine withdrawal
  • 67% had experienced psychological problems, including anxiety, irritability, and paranoia “in extreme cases.”
  • Many reported physical problems including insomnia, stomach problems, rapid heartbeat, and frequent urination.
  • Over 65% had developed caffeine tolerance.
  • At least 93% met several criteria for substance dependence.
  • Dependency could occur with as little as 100 milligrams of caffeine a day.
  • Over 88% tried to quit or cut down at least once, but 62% couldn’t last more than a month.
  • 42% of those with caffeine dependence had a lifetime history of mood disorders.
  • Men and women were similar in their level of caffeine intake.
  • Many would appreciate the help of professionals for their problems related to caffeine.

Vitelli notes, though, that there are two major obstacles to dealing with one’s caffeine addiction:

  1. Because the issue is treated less than seriously, many don’t receive the guidance they need from doctors or others.
  2. It’s a substance that’s hard to avoid, even by going “decaf,” which still has up to 20% of the original caffeine.

What are Juliano’s recommendations? “…(H)ealthy adults should limit caffeine consumption to no more than 400 mg per day—the equivalent of about two to three 8-oz cups of coffee. Pregnant women should consume less than 200 mg per day and people who regularly experience anxiety or insomnia—as well as those with high blood pressure, heart problems, or urinary incontinence—should also limit caffeine” (American University).

Still have doubts about the existence of caffeine use disorder? Look for Confessions of a Caffeine Addict: 40 True Anonymous Stories (2010). Editor Marina Kushner, is the founder of the non-profit Caffeine Awareness Association, which sponsors both “National Caffeine Awareness Month” in March and “Caffeine Addition Recovery Month” in October.