Consumed universally and unregulated, caffeine is the most used psychoactive stimulant drug on earth. Ninety percent of North Americans report drinking caffeine daily. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolate are the most popular caffeine-laden items.
Caffeine is a stimulant that increases central nervous system activity and an individual’s metabolic rate. The effects of caffeine are alertness, relief from physical exhaustion, a sharpened mental awareness and improved coordination. Moderate caffeine intake can be considered healthy and productive. Depending on the individual’s body weight and height, caffeine begins to affect the individual within an hour after indigested, and stops working after three or four hours. Studies have shown that moderate caffeine consumption promotes productivity and a positive attitude. Tolerance to caffeine develops quickly. An individual ingesting 40 milligrams three times daily for seven days or more, will no longer experience caffeine-related sleep interruption.
Caffeine withdrawal causes the blood vessels in the head to expand, allowing extra blood to fill the brain, initiating nausea and headaches. Other caffeine withdrawal symptoms are irritability, lack of motivation, fatigue and depression. “Caffeinism” is the long-term overuse of caffeine. Caffeine dependency, or caffeinism, elevates nervousness, anxiety, twitching and trembling, heart rate, stomach ulcers, sleeplessness and headaches.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines caffeine addiction into four psychiatric disorders: caffeine intoxication, caffeine induced anxiety disorder, caffeine induced sleep disorder, and, a not yet fully defined, caffeine induced disorder.
Caffeine intoxication symptoms are introduced when the individual has overdosed. These life-threatening symptoms are similar to overdose with other stimulants: nervousness, reddening of the face and upper body, sleeplessness, volatile behavior, upset stomach, irregular urination, speedy heartbeat, and rapid speech and movement. In more severe cases the caffeine-intoxicated individual may experience falters in judgment, hallucinations, delusions, depression, chaotic mood-swings, and of course, death. Support and care for caffeine-intoxication can be treated at a medical center.
Caffeine induced anxiety disorder and caffeine induced sleep disorders are rarely diagnosed, but are generated by long-term overuse of caffeine. These disorders deprive the individual of sleep and a healthy, functioning central nervous system. A British study concluded one in ten caffeine drinkers suffer from either caffeine-induced anxiety disorder or caffeine induced sleep disorder.
Caffeine withdrawal is not dangerous or life-threatening like withdrawal from alcohol or other substances, and does not require mental health supervision. The individual will experience anxiety, moodiness, a short-temper, headaches, nausea, drowsiness, flu-like symptoms, muscle pain and soreness, and may experience difficulty focusing.
Treatment for caffeine addiction is unfortunately still an unexplored area. Studies have shown juice fasting, or the “juice diet” works effectively coupled with a well-rounded mineral intake. Individuals can choose to halt caffeine intake completely, or gradually step down the amount. Health care professionals suggest the less painful latter of the two. Counseling, support groups, and hypnosis are also available options, and have shown significant results with the treatment of other addictive substances and behaviors.