Caffeine Addiction Symptoms and Withdrawal

Caffeine addiction is the excessive and harmful use of caffeine over a period of time, such that it has negative effects on your health, social interactions, or other areas of your life.

To be clear, caffeine has been associated with many positive side effects. Research has connected this plant-derived stimulant to improved mood, relief from headaches, and perhaps a reduced risk of other major medical issues such as strokes, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. Large studies that tracked people over time have even found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die during follow-up.

Yet, some people experience negative issues as a result of their caffeine use or have difficulty coping without caffeine. Though rare, there have even been cases of caffeine overdose.

Caffeine and Caffeine Addiction

Caffeine is the most widely used drug worldwide. In the United States, coffee and soda are the top caffeine sources, whereas African and Asian countries tend to consume it in soda and tea. Caffeine is also present in many common foods (pretty much anything with chocolate), making it easy to over-consume.

When caffeine turns problematic is when it disrupts your life in a negative way, yet you're unable to stop consuming it. Or you consume it in amounts that are potentially dangerous to your health despite knowing that it may be harming you mentally or physically.

Although caffeine addiction is not a formally recognized condition in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)," a manual used by clinicians to classify and diagnose mental health concerns, the publication does mention a few caffeine-related issues, such as intoxication and withdrawal.

Caffeine intoxication, caffeine withdrawal, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, and caffeine-induced sleep disorder are all recognized in the "DSM-5," and caffeine use disorder has been identified as requiring further study.

How Caffeine Can Negatively Affect Your Health

Caffeine has various effects on the body that are potentially harmful to your health. There have been associations of caffeine with increased blood pressure and heart rhythm changes.

There is also a question of whether caffeine might be associated with increasing your risk of osteoporosis. One study found this to be the case for women in menopause with high caffeine intakes.

Caffeine can also decrease your health by disturbing your sleep if it is consumed within six hours of bedtime. When you are sleep deprived, it makes it harder to function efficiently during the day. Sleep is also when your body heals, making it important for total health and even for immune function.

Symptoms of Caffeine Addiction

As caffeine is a stimulant, consuming too much can cause a cluster of symptoms associated with stimulation of the brain and nervous system. These symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling shaky
  • Headache
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nervousness
  • Racing heart, or other heartbeat abnormalities
  • Sleep issues

This type of addiction can even overlap with work addiction, as some people use the stimulating effects of this substance to perform better at their job mentally and/or physically.

As with all addictions, the pleasurable effects of caffeine can also sometimes mask other issues. Lack of energy and depression may underlie caffeine addiction. People may rely on caffeine to compensate for sleep disorders.

Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

Just as taking in too much caffeine can present issues, so can suddenly removing it from your diet. This can result in caffeine withdrawal, which produces symptoms that are the opposite of consuming too much. This effect can be especially profound in people who are addicted to caffeine.

The symptom most often noticed by people going through caffeine withdrawal is a headache, which may range from mild to severe. Other symptoms associated with trying to cut back your caffeine habit or missing your daily "dose" are:

Occasionally, people withdrawing from caffeine also experience flu-like symptoms, such as nausea as well as mood changes.

Caffeine Addiction Can Look and Feel Like Other Disorders

The stimulating effects of caffeine can sometimes cause physical symptoms and behaviors that look and feel like—and therefore be easily confused with—other disorders. Therefore, it is important to let your doctor or mental health clinicians know how much caffeine you are consuming if you are being assessed for any condition.

For example, caffeine intoxication produces symptoms that can easily be confused with anxiety disorders, such as panic attacks. Too much caffeine can also worsen symptoms of these disorders by intensifying feelings of worry, causing racing thoughts, increasing heart rate, and preventing relaxation and good-quality sleep.

People who are overstimulated with caffeine can also exhibit symptoms consistent with attention deficit disorders. Conversely, caffeine withdrawal shares similar symptoms with mood disorders. Other health concerns that can be confused with caffeine intoxication include:

It can also be mistaken for and worsen symptoms of withdrawal from other substances, such as amphetamines and cocaine. Stimulant drugs such as these are often cut with caffeine, increasingly the likelihood that caffeine withdrawal is involved in withdrawal from these drugs.

Caffeine Can Induce Other Disorders

Some disorders are triggered by the use of caffeine. Examples of these types of disorders include caffeine-induced anxiety disorder and caffeine-induced sleep disorder.

What to Do If You Think You Might Be Addicted to Caffeine

Addiction involves not only excessive use of caffeine but also relying on this stimulant to better cope with life in spite of any negative effects you may be experiencing. To figure out whether you might be addicted, it helps to:

  1. Assess your intake. Calculate how much caffeine you are consuming on a typical day. Keep in mind that gourmet espresso, lattes, and cappuccino typically contain more caffeine than regular drip or instant coffee, soda, and other common caffeine-containing foods and drinks. Therefore, this should be accounted for when determining your normal intake.
  2. Pay attention to how you feel. Make a note of any side effects you experience after consuming caffeine. Also note any adverse effects you feel if you lower your normal intake or skip caffeine entirely. Pay attention to both mental and physical effects for a more complete picture of how you are impacted by its use.
  3. Consider how caffeine affects all areas of your life. Think about your caffeine habit and how it affects your life as a whole. Do your relationships suffer if you don't get your morning coffee, for instance? Could your caffeine intake be contributing to your work anxiety?

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Next Steps to Consider

If you feel that your responses to caffeine (or a lack of caffeine) are affecting you negatively in any way, speak to your healthcare provider. Similarly, if you have another health condition that might be impacted by caffeine use, such as heart disease, or even if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, discuss options with your doctor right away.

The vicious cycle of addiction is often the same with caffeine as it is with other addictive substances. As the effects of the caffeine begin to wear off, you might feel a crash in energy and that you can't keep going without another boost. Your doctor can help you find ways to move past this without giving in.

Since stopping "cold turkey" can make you feel worse, it is important for most people to reduce caffeine intake gradually rather than abruptly. Your doctor can help you devise a plan that is suitable for you based on your typical caffeine consumption. This can help reduce or eliminate any withdrawal effects.

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7 Quick Tips to Help with Caffeine Withdrawal

If you feel you are using caffeine to cope with an emotional problem, such as depression or anxiety, also talk to your physician about options for treating these conditions. The right treatment could make a huge difference for you.

Caffeine addiction often overlaps with other behavioral addictions, such as sugar addiction. So, you might find that evaluating your caffeine intake identifies other behaviors that need to be addressed as well.

If you don't feel that you are addicted to caffeine but may be consuming more than is healthy, you can choose to either reduce your caffeine intake or cut it out completely.

Instead of cutting your caffeine intake abruptly, try reducing your regular intake by about 10% every two weeks. One way to do this is to reduce the strength of your caffeinated drinks by diluting them with a decaffeinated version.

A Word From Verywell

Caffeine addiction is so common that we don't even notice it most of the time. But when you are able to greatly reduce or quit caffeine to reduce the negative effects it is having on you, you may find it easier to get back in touch with your own natural energy and have the ability to relax when night falls.

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