21st May, 2024

Caffeine Addiction

Signs & Symptoms of Dependence

addicted to coffee

When a person cannot control their intake of caffeine they may have an addiction.

Besides the all-time favorite, coffee, caffeine-based products make up a number of different foods, beverages and over-the-counter remedies. The more commonly used products include –

  • Cola drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Energy drinks
  • Pain killer medications
  • Cold medications

Caffeine’s widespread use does not negate the fact that it’s still a psychoactive drug. Like any other psychoactive agent, caffeine can cross the brain-blood barrier giving it direct access to the brain’s chemical workings. Caffeine’s effects alter brain neurotransmitter levels, central nervous system (CNS) functions and ultimately the various bodily processes regulated by the brain and CNS.

Psychoactive drugs also tend to carry an abuse and addiction potential, which further complicates their overall effects on a person’s well-being. In actuality, a range of disorders are associated with excess caffeine use, some of which include –

  • Iron deficiencies
  • Migraine headaches
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Fibrocystic breast condition
  • Heartburn

Not surprisingly, the widespread use of caffeine has downplayed this drug’s effects as an addictive substance. Granted, the effects of caffeine addiction are mild compared to other drugs like cocaine and heroin; however, the addiction factor still warrants concern, and in some cases treatment.

Caffeine Use

According to the Johns Hopkins News Network, caffeine exists as the most widely used drug across the globe with an estimated 90 percent of American adults ingesting caffeine on a daily basis. On average, daily consumption amounts equal 200 milligrams per day.

Recommendations from the U. S. Food & Drug Administration allow for up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day. Daily consumption amounts above this limit can bring on adverse, and sometimes dangerous health effects. With coffee and energy drinks being the most heavily consumed caffeine products, average caffeine content per serving goes as follows –

  • Medium-sized cup of coffee: 300 milligrams
  • 16 ounce energy drink – 160 to 240 milligrams

Considering the high caffeine content per serving, someone who drinks multiple cups of coffee or multiple energy drinks on a daily basis well exceeds the recommended daily allowance.

Caffeine’s Effects on the Body

Caffeine acts as a CNS stimulant, meaning caffeine’s effects influence any bodily system regulated by the CNS. Stimulant drugs in general work to speed up chemical processes in the body, which accounts for the increase in energy levels experienced from caffeine use.

Interestingly enough, Other effects brought on by caffeine bear a close resemblance to cocaine’s effects, though milder in comparison, some of which include –

  • Alertness
  • Confidence
  • Increased in focus and concentration
  • Feeling “sociable”

These positive effects have a self-perpetuating influence in terms of increasing the likelihood of ongoing consumption.

Caffeine’s Effect in the Brain

Caffeine’s peak effects take hold within 30 minutes time, while its half-life inside a person’s bloodstream can last for up to four hours. During this time, caffeine alters as many as five different brain neurotransmitter levels –

  • Adenosine
  • Cortisol
  • Adrenal hormone
  • Adrenaline
  • Lactate

Adenosine produces a calming effect. Caffeine effects reduce adenosine outputs.

The other four neurotransmitters have an excitatory effect. Caffeine, in turn, increases these neurotransmitter outputs.

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Signs of Caffeine Addiction

Physical Dependence

Physical dependence takes hold once the brain comes to incorporate caffeine’s effects within its normal regulatory functions, according to Bryn Mawr College. Once a person reaches the point of physical dependence, he or she will start to experience withdrawal effects when insufficient amounts of caffeine are made available to the brain.

Withdrawal effects can last up to 48 hours at a time, some of which include –

  • Problems getting and/or staying asleep
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Low energy levels

Much like caffeine’s positive effects perpetuate ongoing consumption, the negative effects brought on by caffeine also encourage ongoing use. By ingesting more caffeine, a person can eliminate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. In effect, caffeine’s negative effects drive a person to continued use.

Tolerance Level Increases

Any substance capable of altering brain chemical functions makes direct contact with the brain cells that secrete these chemicals. With ongoing or excess use, the overstimulation of brain cell structures weakens their ability to secrete needed chemical amounts. This in turn weakens their sensitivity to caffeine’s effects.

Before long, heavy caffeine users require increasingly large amounts of the drug in order to experience its desired effects. This process accounts for how the brain comes to tolerate larger amounts of caffeine over time.

Ultimately, caffeine’s self-perpetuating effects can cripple brain cell functions to the point where a person’s physical and psychological health is compromised.

Behavioral Effects

The behavioral effects of caffeine addiction can vary from person to person depending on –

  • Overall physical health
  • Mental and emotional well-being
  • Stress factors

Someone who makes a habit of consuming coffee first thing in the morning may not be able to function without it. In this case, the absence of caffeine feels much like a hangover after a night of too much alcohol.

For people with health problems, caffeine’s ability to stimulate CNS functions can aggravate existing symptoms and essentially weaken the brain and body’s resiliency. For someone already struggling with depression and/or anxiety-based symptoms, caffeine’s harmful effects can likewise worsen his or her ability to cope with daily life stressors.

Symptoms of Caffeine Addiction

Caffeine Intoxication

Symptoms of caffeine addiction develop gradually from the drug’s cumulative effects on brain and body function. Caffeine intoxication takes the form of an ongoing state of withdrawal due brought on by rampant chemical imbalances in the brain.

Someone who drinks coffee or energy drinks all day long will likely reach a state of caffeine intoxication within a week’s time. Symptoms of intoxication include –

  • Nervousness
  • Tension
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle twitches
  • Insomnia
  • Depression symptoms
  • Nausea/vomiting

Inability to Cut Back or Stop Caffeine Use

The inability to reduce or stop using a drug in the face of its negative effects is the hallmark of addiction. While the physical effects of caffeine may be clearly felt, the drug’s psychological effects take hold without a person’s even knowing it.

The fact that a chronic coffee drinker continues to anticipate and relish coffee’s positive effects in spite of developing physical and psychological distress demonstrates a psychological dependency. This psychological dependency results from caffeine’s damaging effects on brain cognitive functions.

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