Do you love starting your day off with a steaming hot cup of coffee? Well, we all do! There is a reason behind why you may feel irritable and groggy when you miss out on your morning cup. It is because your coffee contains high levels of caffeine, which is now being identified as a form of an addictive drug.

According to the Journal of Caffeine Research, caffeine is a popular drug that is commonly used all over the world. Studies show that in the United States alone, more than 90% of adults use it regularly, and among them, the average consumption is more than 200 mg per day.

In fact, a number of health care officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize caffeine dependency as a clinical disorder. A research paper published in 2010 in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners states that caffeine meets all the characteristics of addictive substances, including dependence, tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

On the other hand, some people argue that the regular ingestion of caffeine cannot lead to a ‘true’ addiction; therefore, it cannot be categorized as a drug. Supporting the case for caffeine, the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse denies the addiction, pointing that it is not a drug because unlike cocaine and addictive substances, most people do not feel a strong compulsion to ‘use’ it.

Let’s have a closer look at caffeine and at how it works to understand whether it is really addictive or not!

How Caffeine Works?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that works to affect your body and mind in a number of ways. You may be surprised to know that coffee is not the only thing in our houses that contains this potential drug. Chocolates, soft drinks, energy drink and tea also contain a considerable amount in them. Now you know why you crave chocolate all the time!

When caffeine is absorbed in the body, it works to produce chemicals that are similar to the brain’s natural relaxing hormones that affect the central nervous system of the body. This blocks the stress receptors in the brain from binding, keeping you from feeling tired. In turn, the blocked receptors are stimulated and produce natural nerve chemicals like dopamine which activates the pleasure center in the brain.

The activation of the pleasure center in the brain plays a major role in motivating the brain for reward-motivated behavior. The body starts to crave caffeine because the brain is trained to “think” that the substance is needed in order to relieve stress and stay relaxed and alert. The end result is that you feel an instant buzz of energy after having a cup of coffee; your concentration improves and you feel motivated to work! This is what leads to caffeine dependence.

Once you are hooked on caffeine, its abrupt disuse can cause a number of symptoms to appear that can be categorized as the withdrawal effects. The most common of these symptoms include the feeling of tiredness, lack of motivation to work, and headaches.

Myths Associated with Caffeine Consumption

It does not come as a surprise that caffeine, coffee specifically, is associated with a number of myths. A few of them hold some truth to them while others have no scientific grounds at all. Scroll down to read more about the myths associated with your coffee:

1. Caffeine Causes Insomnia

A lot of people believe that having a cup of coffee can mess up their sleeping schedule, thanks to the high caffeine content. Well, this is not entirely wrong but it is important to realize that although the substance is quickly absorbed, our body gets rid of it quickly as well! So, you should be fine if you have a cup or two in the morning.

However, drinking a coffee later in the day can interfere with your sleep. The tolerance level may vary from person to person but if you are like most people, your sleep should not be affected if you consume coffee at least 6 hours before calling it a day.

2. Caffeine is Harmful to Children

In younger age, the brain is still developing and consumption of caffeine in large quantities can cause permanent changes to it. Although consuming about 22 milligrams per day is well within the recommended limit for children, with the increasing trend of consuming soft drinks and energy drinks, children can easily exceed this amount. Those who are more sensitive can even develop symptoms like temporary anxiety and irritability.

3. Caffeine as a Sobering Elixir

Most people believe that coffee is the magic elixir to stop feeling hungover after a night out. Sorry to burst your bubble but coffee does more harm than help in this scenario. The truth is that even if you feel better after taking coffee, the judgment capacity and reaction time of your brain is still impaired.

Our Verdict on Caffeine and Addiction

Caffeine is definitely addictive but arguably, addictions vary in strength. A coffee addiction is clearly different than the normal substance abuse. Moreover, the withdrawal symptoms do not last for a long time and tend to be much milder than those linked with stronger addictive substances.

Currently, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes caffeine withdrawal as a clinical condition in DMS-IV but it is not categorized as an addiction or substance abuse disorder. Instead, it is classified as a topic that requires further research. On the other hand, WHO officially categorizes caffeine dependence as a syndrome.

Our verdict? It is okay to consume caffeine as long as you keep it limited to around 400mg per day. This means that you can have up to 4 -5 cups of coffee a day without putting your health at risk. To sum it up, coffee and caffeine have addictive properties but if it is causing you no harm, there’s probably nothing to worry about.

On the other hand, if you feel that consumption is affecting your life adversely, it might be a good idea to contact a medical facility like Scottsdale Recovery Center. The professionals can help you figure out what’s really going on.

In the meantime, keep enjoying your coffee!


Photo Credit: Coffee Geek

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.