Can You Become Addicted To Caffeine?

Most of us enjoy a nice cup of coffee in the morning, and energy drinks have also become a multi-million dollar industry, both of which contain large amounts of Caffeine. Although caffeine is a perfectly accepted legal and safe substance globally, it is still a drug which alters your physiology. A psychoactive drug, to be precise.

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the United States, more than 90% of adults use it regularly, and, among them, average consumption is more than 200 mg of caffeine per day. It’s recommended that 400 mg a day should never be exceeded, but even with smaller amounts you can experience side effects and you can actually build up a dependence to caffeine [1].

“caffeine produces behavioral and physiological effects similar to those produced by other drugs of dependence”

Steven E. Meredith, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Steven goes on to say “several recent clinical studies indicate that caffeine dependence is a clinically meaningful disorder that affects a nontrivial proportion of caffeine users”.

Caffeine Dependence Syndrome

This condition, as you may have guessed, is diagnosed when a person becomes dependent on caffeine. The problem is that there have been no population-based studies to investigate the prevalence or severity of within the general population.

It’s also quite difficult for practitioners to determine the root cause of caffeine addiction as many people that develop an addiction to caffeine have also developed other addictions to various drugs, illegal, prescription and over the counter. So it’s difficult to determine just exactly which type of individual could actually develop an addiction to caffeine.

Some studies have used the generic DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Substance Abuse and applied this to caffeine. One study interviewed 104 healthy control subjects from the general population in Pisa, Italy and 6% of this group received a caffeine dependence diagnosis. If you scale that up to a larger population, you could argue that this is a rather large percentage of people to be diagnosed with an addiction to caffeine.

Some people can feel euphoric when consuming caffeine, and as that feeling starts to dissipate, the brain can start to send signals to the user to consume more to get the same fix. So it’s very much like a drug of any other kind, it just so happens that the effects are on a much smaller scale, but still very noticeable.

Conclusion

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug which stimulates your central nervous system and also releases “reward” chemicals in your brain which can induce a euphoric sensation. This can have the same effect on the user as any other drug which leads to some form of dependence, however, it’s very difficult to determine what type of person can become addicted to caffeine as some studies show that users from all backgrounds can be diagnosed with a Caffeine Dependence Disorder.

It is possible to become addicted to caffeine, although the negative effects might not be as damaging as other substances, it could potentially lead to long-term physiological alterations. More research needs to be carried out to uncover the long-term effects of caffeine addiction.

Kath Ross, PhD
Health Editor at DietProbe
Kathryn is a Ph.D Health Editor here at DietProbe. She specializes in diabetes and weight control research and in her spare time she's a professional cat lady and wine connoisseur!