- Many people struggle to cut down on caffeine, even if it hits their health
- The drug is so commonplace many are unaware of dangers, report states
- Caffeine addicts ‘should get trained advice to quit like other drug users’
Health experts have warned about the growing problem of that most socially acceptable of drug addictions – caffeine.
Most people think nothing of their much-needed tea or coffee in the morning, or a can of cola to chase away the post-lunch slump.
But a study co-authored by Washington-based American University psychology professor Laura Juliano indicates that many are so dependent on caffeine they suffer withdrawal symptoms and are unable to reduce consumption – even if they have another condition that may be impacted by caffeine, such as a pregnancy, a heart condition, or a bleeding disorder.
Morning buzz: Addiction to caffeine is a hidden health problem, according to new research. File picture
The condition is called ‘Caffeine Use Disorder’ and even though caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world, health professionals have been slow to characterise problematic caffeine use and acknowledge that some cases may call for treatment, according to the study.
‘The negative effects of caffeine are often not recognised as such because it is a socially acceptable and widely consumed drug that is well integrated into our customs and routines,’ Juliano said.
‘And while many people can consume caffeine without harm, for some it produces negative effects, physical dependence, interferes with daily functioning, and can be difficult to give up, which are signs of problematic use.’
‘Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda,’ which Juliano wrote with Steven Meredith and Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and John Hughes from the University of Vermont, was published last year in the Journal of Caffeine Research.
But in a nation where a stop at Starbucks is a daily ritual for many people, is there really a market for caffeine cessation?
The study summarises the results of previously published caffeine research to present the biological evidence for caffeine dependence, data that shows how widespread dependence is, and the significant physical and psychological symptoms experienced by habitual caffeine users.
In so far as heeding the call for more research, the scientific community is beginning to wake up and smell the coffee.
Last spring, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognised Caffeine Use Disorder as a health concern.
Juliano added: ‘There is misconception among professionals and lay people alike that caffeine is not difficult to give up. However, in population-based studies, more than 50 per cent of regular caffeine consumers report that they have had difficulty quitting or reducing caffeine use.
THE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE DRUG
Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used stimulant, and it’s cheap and readily available so people can maintain their use of caffeine quite easily.
Research demonstrates, however, that when people don’t get their usual dose they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms, including headache, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.
They may even feel like they have the flu with nausea and muscle pain.
Experiments have shown that 50 per cent of people got headaches when their coffee was taken away and 13 per cent were sick enough to lose time at work.
‘Furthermore, genetics research may help us to better understand the effects of caffeine on health and pregnancy as well as individual differences in caffeine consumption and sensitivity,’ she added.
Based on current research, Juliano advises that healthy adults should limit caffeine consumption to no more than 400mg per day – the equivalent of about two to three cups of coffee.
Pregnant women should consume less than 200mg per day and people who regularly experience anxiety or insomnia – as well as those with high blood pressure, heart problems, or urinary incontinence should also limit caffeine.
But limiting one’s caffeine intake is often easier said than done as most people don’t know how much caffeine they consume daily.
‘At this time, manufacturers are not required to label caffeine amounts and some products such as energy drinks do not have regulated limits on caffeine,’
Juliano said, adding that if this changed, people could perhaps better limit their consumption and ideally, avoid caffeine’s possible negative effects.
But in a nation where a stop at Starbucks is a daily ritual for many people, is there really a market for caffeine cessation? Juliano says yes.
‘Through our research, we have observed that people who have been unable to quit or cut back on caffeine on their own would be interested in receiving formal treatment, similar to the outside assistance people can turn to if they want to quit smoking or tobacco use,’ she said.