Friday, May 9, 2008

Coffee Addiction

The pharmacology of caffeine

Recent studies have documented the existence of severe caffeine addicts who suffer significant depression and lessened cognitive capacity for several weeks or months following termination of coffee drinking. Balzac, the nineteenth century French writer, reportedly died of caffeine poisoning at roughly the 50-cup-per-day level.

At low doses, caffeine sharpens cognitive processes--primarily mathematics, organization, and memory--just as nicotine does. The results of a ten-year study, reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that female nurses between the ages of 34 and 59 who drank coffee were less likely to commit suicide than women who drank no coffee at all.

Until recently, coffee and tea were rarely thought of as drugs of abuse, even though it is certainly possible to drink too much caffeine. Are the xanthines, the family of compounds that includes caffeine, addictive?

The typical caffeine dose in a cup of coffee--between 50 and 200 milligrams, with an average of about 115 milligrams--is enough to produce a measurable metabolic effect. Supermarket coffee in a can has considerably more caffeine per brewed cup than gourmet blends. Robusta beans have more caffeine than Arabica varieties. Instant coffee is the most potent coffee of all. The side effects of overdose--excessive sweating, jittery feelings, and rapid speech--tend to be transient and benign. Withdrawal is another matter: Caffeine causes a surge in limbic dopamine and norepinephrine levels--but not solely at the nucleus accumbens. The prefrontal cortex gets involved as well.

Caffeine's psychoactive power and addictive potential are easily underestimated. The primary receptor site for caffeine is adenosine, which, like GABA, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Adenosine normally slows down neural firing. Caffeine blocks out adenosine at its receptors, and higher dopamine and norepinephrine levels are among the results. Taken as a whole, these neurotransmitter alterations result in the bracing lift, the coffee "buzz" that coffee drinkers experience as pleasurable.

Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have demonstrated that high doses of caffeine result in the growth of additional adenosine receptors in the brains of rats. In order to feel normal, the rats must continue to have caffeine. Take away the caffeine, and the brain, now excessively sensitized to adenosine, becomes sluggish without the artificial stimulation of the newly grown adenosine receptors. Like alcoholics and cocaine addicts, people with an impressive tolerance for coffee and tea may find themselves chasing a caffeine high in a losing battle against fluctuating neuroreceptor growth patterns.

Increased tolerance and verifiable withdrawal symptoms, the primary determinants of addiction, are easily demonstrated in victims of caffeinism. Even casual coffee drinkers are susceptible to the familiar caffeine withdrawal headache, which is the result of caffeine's ability to restrict blood vessels and reduce the flow of blood to the head. When caffeine is withdrawn, the arteries in the head dilate, causing a headache. Caffeine's demonstrated talent for reducing headaches is one of the reasons pharmaceutical companies routinely include it in over-the-counter cold and flu remedies. The common habit of drinking coffee in the morning is not only a quick route to wakefulness, but also a means of avoiding the headaches associated with withdrawal from the caffeine of the day before.

--Adapted from The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction © Dirk Hanson 2008, 2009.

Photo Credit: Lifehacker
[Note: For my Russian readers, a translation of this post is available here: "Зависимость от кофе translated by Health Effects of Coffee"]


Anonymous said...

with the death penalty issue. the death penalty in its self is cruel and unusual punishment. to take ones life because of a judgement made by any person, makes you no better than the person whom you are condeming to death. we as people should not have the right to make such judgements,but we can lock them away until it is their time to die so that they cant hurt others again. if there is an after life they will get their do punishement,and if not,at least we wouldnt be the same as the acused,but better people than they could ever be

swag said...

Isn't this whole article a complete misnomer? I mean, you can buy decaffeinated coffee. Coffee isn't the "addiction" (as much as any heroin addict who sold their child into sex slavery for a fix will laugh at anyone who makes such a ridiculous claim as "coffee addiction").

There are energy drinks, headache medicines, chocolate cake mixes, etc.

Coffee is not the same as caffeine, which blows your credibility right there.

Dirk Hanson said...

Dear Swag: I don't make this stuff up, I just report it.

Seattle Times

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Scientists find coffee really is addictive

By Angela Stewart

Newhouse News Service
NEWARK, N.J. — Don't be surprised if missing that cup of morning coffee gives you a headache or makes it difficult to concentrate at work. It's all part of caffeine withdrawal, say Johns Hopkins University researchers who released a study that could result in the official classification of the condition as a mental disorder.

In the most comprehensive review and analysis of the effects of caffeine abstinence in humans published to date, the researchers conclude that as little as one small cup of coffee daily can produce caffeine addiction.

In general, the more caffeine consumed, the more severe withdrawal symptoms will be, with some people even reporting depression, nausea, vomiting or muscle pain.

Results of the study could result in caffeine withdrawal's inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM — considered the bible of the psychiatric profession.

"We need to recognize that caffeine really is a drug and accord it respect as a drug. People need to know what it does when they take it, and what it does when they cease to take it, and make an adult decision about that," said Roland Griffiths, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, who published the findings with his colleague, Laura Juliano, who teaches at American University.

Griffiths stressed that coffee is not the only culprit. He said soft drinks and other products containing caffeine can produce withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue and irritability.

swag said...

Caffeine is not synonymous with coffee!

There's decaffeinated coffee, for example, and there are things like chocolate cake, Red Bull, etc.


Please get that through your skull.

Anonymous said...

swag, can't you pick your battles a little more gracefully? you are getting a bit bent out of shape. i can practically hear you slamming your fist down on a table. chill the eff out. have a freaking coffee.

Anonymous said...

"Dear Swag: I don't make this stuff up, I just report it."

If you didn't then why don't you cite your sources?

~ leonore aquino ~ said...

I can have as much as 6-8 cups of coffee in a day and am ok...I can live with it but don't know if it can harm my body system ...I just love coffee!

Dirk Hanson said...

Me too.

Anonymous said...

isn't the level of depression higher on average anyways? with financial stress, stress induced when thinking about the future, and all the random issues that a person experiences in a week... i think we should stop focusing on blaming a substance on the problems and start looking inward. i drink 3 POTS of coffee on average everyday, i'm not stressed out, i'm not concerned about anything in fact. life will go on and it's the individuals responsibility to make that happen for themselves. and on a side note... whats the deal with the death penalty issue at the top?!

Jane said...

I think that there is a great chance for addiction with drinking regular coffee on a daily basis. I drink three or more cups every morning and definitely notice withdrawal symptoms on days that I don't get it as soon as I wake up.

That being said, I am not too worried since there are much worse things I could be addicted to.

Jamie said...

Caffeine is definitely something that people don't think about as being an addiction especially one that is both physical and psychological. I wrote an article based on this as well
People should be aware that they need to take caution when using caffeine.

Matt said...

The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 32:493-502, 2006
Informa Healthcare
ISSN: 0095-2990 print /1097-9891 online
DOI: 10.1080/00952990600918965
Is Caffeine Addictive?—A Review of the Literature
Sally Satel, M.D.*

"The common-sense use of the term addiction is that regular consumption is irresistible and that it creates problems.
Caffeine use does not fit this profile. First, there is no harm to individuals or to society. Second, there is rarely a strong
compulsion to use; more correctly the pattern of use can be described as a dedicated habit. Cessation of regular use may
result in symptoms such as headache and lethargy. These are easily and reliably reversed by ingestion of caffeine.
Avoidance of such symptoms, when they do occur, is easily accomplished by ingesting successively smaller doses of
caffeine over about a week-long period.

Thus, caffeine use meets neither the common sense nor the scientific definitions of an addictive substance."

Dirk Hanson said...

""The common-sense use of the term addiction is that regular consumption is irresistible and that it creates problems."

Not a definition of addiction I have ever encountered before.

Bradleyx50 said...

Addiction is addiction if it's a substance or behavior WE are trying to address, thinking one is different from another is the REAL issue.
I AM an addict &
my name is


as of JUNE 15 2010 I'm 44 months clean off everything EXCEPT
Coffee & therefor caffeine !

Anonymous said...

Let's lighten the moood... :)

COFFEE IN MY BELLY! Search it on YouTube! :D

(here's the link actually ..

Its this strange song this guy in Australia made up about how much he loves coffee - (i'm from australia).


Anonymous said...

I strongly believe that coffee can make a person addicted to that certain beverage. I agree that as any other caffeinated beverages can have this kind of addiction, is the withdraw feeling and consequences that affect us. As myself experiencing these kind of addiction, is not a joke. I used to love coffee until i notice a dependency to it. I had to drink it only to avoid the withdraw feelings and it was horrible. Confusion, jitters, bad mood, and headaches are some of the symptoms that takes over my body if caffein is absent from it. This is not a joke, and is sad because is taking over my life. This happened because I am a coffee drinker. So, yes. Coffee can make you a caffein addict.

Anonymous said...

Decaf also contains caffeine.

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