Caffeine Addiction, Can You Quit?

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Up to 90% of adult Americans consume caffeine every day. Most commonly, the caffeine is in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. This adds up to an average of about 280 mg of caffeine per day, or the equivalent of about two cups of coffee. Many people who consume caffeine on a regular basis report that they experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms when this popular stimulant is withdrawn, similar to the symptoms felt with the withdrawal of other addictive substances.

The terms "caffeine addiction" and "caffeine dependence" are commonly used, but to date, there is not scientific proof that caffeine meets the criteria to induce a complete addiction. Several case studies, however, have shown that caffeine was able to induce a clinical dependence similar to that induced by other psychoactive drugs in some people. There is also a lack of scientific evidence to show that severe side effects are associated with stopping caffeine use.

Despite the debate over whether true caffeine addiction is possible, "caffeine withdrawal" is a known clinical condition with predictable symptoms. Caffeine withdrawal occurs in some people who regularly consume caffeine when their consumption is suddenly halted. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University confirmed that withdrawal symptoms can occur even when small amounts (corresponding to about one cup of coffee per day) of caffeine are consumed. In a review of 170 years of caffeine research, the Hopkins team examined 57 separate studies and found that the features of caffeine withdrawal can vary from mild mood changes to systemic, flu-like symptoms. The major types of caffeine withdrawal reactions were identified as

The withdrawal symptoms typically began

12-24 hours after the last dose of caffeine, became most severe after one to two days, and lasted for two to nine days.

If you want to cut down on caffeine, experts advise doing so slowly. Decrease your consumption gradually over a period of days (or weeks, if you're a heavy consumer) to avoid being plagued by withdrawal symptoms.

REFERENCES:

Juliano, L.M., and R.R. Griffiths. "A Critical Review of Caffeine Withdrawal: Empirical Validation of Symptoms and Signs, Incidence, Severity, and Associated Features." Psychopharmacology (Berl). Sept, 21, 2004.

UpToDate.com. Benefits and risks of caffeine and caffeinated beverages.


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Reviewed on 12/1/2014

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