Caffeine Addiction

by on June 13, 2012

Medical experts consider caffeine as the most widely used psychoactive drug. Since it is easily available for consumers, becoming dependent on it is not unusual. In fact, it is said that around 20 to 30% of the adult popular are dependent on the effects of caffeine. However, only very few actually acknowledge their dependence on caffeine. This is because caffeine is rarely considered as a drug but rather as a usual part of the diet.

Unlike other commonly abused drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and nicotine, caffeine does not always result life-threatening health risks. However, some caffeine users report becoming “addicted” to caffeine such that they are unable to stop taking it or to cut down their average consumption, they continue to drink caffeinated beverages despite having psychological or medical problems made worse by this substance.

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Usually, these people cannot stash off caffeine from their diet because of the disturbing caffeine withdrawal symptoms they experience. According to a recent study, there are five clusters of withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Depression or irritability
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Flulike symptoms such as nausea, muscle aches, and stiffness
  • Headache

Caffeine-dependent consumers may experience any of these symptoms within 12 to 24 hours of abstaining from caffeine, regardless of type of caffeine product usually consumed. In order to manage symptoms, these consumers need to ingest caffeine despite of possible side effects or overdose.

Caffeine Dependence

Caffeine is not actually an addictive substance but it can very habit-forming. Actually, health experts do not use the term “caffeine addiction” to describe consumer’s behavioral and physiological reactions to this substance, instead “caffeine dependence” which is a mild form of addiction.

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV), substance dependence is characterized by a group of behavioral, cognitive and physiological symptoms (such as withdrawal symptoms) indicating that the person continue to ingest a certain substance despite problems related to it. Using the 7-point criteria contained in the DSM-IV manual, it is possible for a consumer to be clinically diagnosed of being dependent on caffeine.

However, at present, caffeine dependence is not included in DSM-IV which means that an individual cannot be diagnosed with caffeine dependence. The exclusion of this diagnosis is that although it can produce physical dependence, there are inadequate information and well-controlled studies pertaining to other aspects of dependence such as inability to quit and use despite harm.

What Studies Say?

Despite not being listed in the DSM-IV, there are a lot of cases of people who can actually be clinically diagnosed with caffeine dependence based on their psychological and physical symptoms. In one of the studies, 16 out of 99 participants met the DSM-IV criteria for substance dependence on caffeine. These patients have satisfactorily met four out of the seven criteria (only 3 are needed to be clinically diagnosed with substance dependence). Their average caffeine consumption ranged from 129 mg to 2548 mg, with coffee and soft drinks as the source of caffeine. Another study conducted on adolescents has seen a meaningful caffeine dependence syndrome.

In a random study, at least 30% of caffeine users actually met at least 3 criteria provided in the DSM-IV. At least 56% reported a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to control or cut down caffeine use.

More well-controlled studies are required before substance dependence on caffeine to be included in the DSM classification. Meanwhile, people who are dependent on caffeine and are unable to control their consumption should seek medical assistance to effectively manage their symptoms. Depending on the condition of the patient, the healthcare provider may prescribe medications.