Addicted to caffeine

Ever feel like you can’t get through your day if you don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning? Do you rely on energy drinks to stay productive? If you answered yes, you just might be a caffeine addict!

Everyone knows that caffeine can perk you up when you’re feeling tired or sleepy. While there’s certainly no harm in having a cup of coffee in the morning, it’s time to pay close attention if you discover that you can’t function without a hit (or two or three) of caffeine.

It’s important to note that while you may feel pulled toward drinking endless cups of coffee, you’re actually drawn to the caffeine in coffee. This means that you’re likely to find caffeine in other beverages — such as fizzy drinks or energy drinks — irresistible too. An addiction to caffeine, like all addictions, can damage your health.

Clinical Psychologist from Sunway Medical Centre, Jessie Foo talks about the effects of caffeine addiction and how it often goes unnoticed.

1. UH: What is caffeine addiction?

Jessie Foo: Caffeine is a stimulant and regular use of caffeine causes mild physical dependence. However, unlike alcohol or drug addiction, caffeine usually does not lead to a persistent desire for it or an urge to drink it. Caffeine users do not spend significant time trying to obtain it. Hence, regular caffeine use does not lead to impairment of social and occupational functioning.

While people may develop tolerance with regular use of caffeine, leading to the need for more and more to feel alert, most caffeine users find a comfortable level and stick with that. Thus, it is not seen as a serious addiction problem. However, some people may be dependent on caffeine to function normally, which may lead to caffeine dependence.

2. UH: Does caffeine addiction fall under the same category as drug or alcohol addiction?

JF: No it does not. An addiction is a persistent desire/urge to use the substance and users spend significant amounts of time to obtain the substance. This leads to impairment in social and/or occupational functioning. To date, health professionals do not see caffeine users having such problems, thus caffeine addiction is not a mental health condition.

Caffeine withdrawal on the other hand is considered to be a substance use disorder, which falls under the same category as alcohol and drug addiction.

3. UH: Is caffeine considered a type of drug?

JF: Caffeine is considered a drug because it stimulates our central nervous system, causing increased alertness, temporary energy boost, and elevates mood.

4.UH: What are some of the most popular beverages which contain caffeine?

JF: Caffeine can be found in many drinks like coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks.

5. UH: What are the possible reasons why someone becomes a caffeine addict?

JF: People who use the term “caffeine addiction” often mean they drink caffeine regularly to achieve its pleasant effects, including increased alertness and a positive mood. Therefore, a dependence on caffeine is partly due to your personal preference: you enjoy caffeine, so you make it a regular part of your day.  Regular use may cause mild physical dependence (some people may be dependent on caffeine to achieve the pleasant effects), but frequent caffeine use does not lead to a persistent desire/urge to use caffeine.  Caffeine addiction has not been classified as a mental health disorder but caffeine related issues such as caffeine overdose and caffeine withdrawal are clinical problems.

6. UH: What are the signs and symptoms of caffeine addiction?

JF: If you stop taking caffeine abruptly and you experience some of the withdrawal symptoms listed below within 24 hours, it’s a clear sign that you have developed unhealthy caffeine dependence:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Flu-like symptoms (nausea, vomiting, muscle pain and so on)

 7. UH: How will caffeine addiction affect one’s health?

JF: Caffeine can disrupt sleep. People may delay their bed time because of they can’t fall asleep due to the influence of caffeine. This will lead to reduced sleep time. Normal stages of sleep may be altered and the quality of sleep will decrease. Besides that, high caffeine intake can increase feelings of anxiety, panic and irritability. Thus, individuals with anxiety problems should be extra careful with  of their caffeine intake.

8. UH: How can caffeine addiction be treated?

JF: A person can manage their caffeine dependence by gradually decreasing consumption over a period of days or weeks (for a heavy consumer) to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

To reduce the habit of using caffeine to start your day, it is important to make lifestyle changes. For instance, getting more sleep, rest, relaxation. If you feel tired or stressed, breathe deeply, go for a walk, or take power naps during the day.

9.UH: If a person enjoys drinking caffeinated drinks, how or where should they draw the line to avoid becoming an addict?

JF: For healthy adults, it is generally agreed by food safety authorities including scientific experts who study the effect of caffeine intake on health that 300mg of caffeine can be consumed daily. This is equal to about: three 240ml cups of brewed coffee, five 240ml cups of tea, eight cans of 240 ml Coke, three and a half can of 240ml Red Bulls Energy Drink.

Caffeine should not be a daily part of a child’s diet because children’s brains are continuing to develop and their bodies are still growing. Nonetheless, 45mg per day is recognized <again, recognized by whom?> as a safe amount for children aged 4 and older. Likewise, teens should have no more than 100mg of caffeine a day, so they get enough sleep and there is no hindrance in brain development.

As caffeine is also found in chocolate, ice cream, weight loss pills, and over-the-counter medication, sometimes people may consume additional caffeine without even realising it.

10.UH: What happens if a person stops drinking caffeine cold turkey?

JF: As mentioned above, some people may develop caffeine withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking caffeine abruptly. While caffeine withdrawal can feel bad for a few days, it does not cause the severe withdrawal problems or harmful drug-seeking behaviours as with alcohol and drugs.

 11.UH: How do friends and family play a role in helping someone combat caffeine addiction?

JF: Caffeine dependence is often related to lifestyles and daily routines. For example, we socialise over afternoon tea. Thus, it is helpful for friends and family to change the routines and introduce healthy lifestyle habits to help someone combat caffeine addiction.

Caffeine overload

Ever wondered about the caffeine content in your drinks or beverages? Here are some of your favourite beverages and how much of caffeine you’ll drink on average.

Beverage Amount (ml) Caffeine (mg)
Brewed coffee 237 95 – 200
Espresso 30 47 – 75
Black tea 237 14 – 70
Green tea 237 24 – 45
Bottled iced tea 237 5 – 40
Red Bull 237 75 – 80


Pregnant but love caffeine?

The effects of caffeine include an increase in heart rate and keeping you alert long after bedtime. If you are pregnant, caffeine can be absorbed by your baby through the placenta. According to popular parenting website Baby Centre, too much caffeine may increase the chances of a miscarriage or premature birth. Hence, high caffeine intake is not recommended if you are pregnant. Generally consuming less than 200 milligrams of caffeine is the recommended daily intake. This is equivalent to about two mugs of instant coffee or four mugs of green tea. If you must have your dose of daily caffeine, try switching from brewed coffee to instant coffee. If you’re more of a tea person, opt for natural fruit tea or steep the tea bag or leaves for a shorter period of time.


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