Caffeine Addiction: Signs, Causes, and Treatment

Caffeine Addiction: Signs, Causes, and Treatment
If you find yourself feeling like you need a cup of coffee (or two) to get your day started or conquer an afternoon slump, you’re not alone. About 90 percent of the U.S. population[1] consumes at least one caffeinated drink every day. Caffeine is used so frequently and freely in our society that many people forget that it’s actually a psychoactive drug. In fact, caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world[2]. Caffeine is naturally found in coffee, certain teas, and chocolate, but is also added to many commercial beverages and medications. It’s a stimulant drug, which means it increases the activity of the brain and nervous system, leading to feelings of alertness. Like other drugs, regular use of caffeine can lead to tolerance and dependence. This means that a person’s body can become used to its effects and require a larger amount to achieve the same level of alertness. Over time, a person can become physically and psychologically dependent on caffeine, feeling as though they need it to effectively function in their day-to-day life. This is called caffeine addiction. If your caffeine use has crossed the line from an occasional pick-me-up to a daily necessity, you may be experiencing caffeine addiction. Thankfully, you can break this maladaptive habit using the principles of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural pathways. In this article, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about caffeine addiction, including how re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program, can help you kick your caffeine addiction to the curb once and for all.

Symptoms of Caffeine Addiction

Many people joke about needing their daily cup of coffee before they can function, but this isn’t always a laughing matter. Feeling like you can’t perform your daily activities effectively without caffeine is actually one of the most telltale signs of caffeine addiction. Other common signs include:
  • Unsuccessful efforts to cut down or quit caffeine.
  • A persistent desire to cut down on caffeine use.
  • Continued caffeine use despite experiencing physical or psychological problems that are likely caused or exacerbated by caffeine (e.g. headaches, shakiness, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, etc.)
  • Consuming more caffeine than intended.
  • Feeling grouchy if you don’t have access to caffeine.
  • Failure to fulfill responsibilities due to excessive caffeine use.
  • Developing a tolerance to caffeine.
Those with caffeine addiction also tend to experience withdrawal symptoms when they don’t consume their regular amount of caffeine. These symptoms can include[3]:
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling shaky
  • Headache
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nervousness
  • Racing heart, or other heartbeat abnormalities
  • Sleep issues
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pain
  • Lethargy
  • Depressed mood
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Causes and Risk Factors of Caffeine Addiction

The average American regularly consumes caffeine, be it through coffee, energy drinks, or some other form, and is dependent on it to some degree. It’s extremely common in today’s society. While caffeine is an inherently addictive chemical, caffeine addiction is started and perpetuated by maladaptive neural pathways in the brain. Let’s walk through how caffeine addiction can develop. The vicious cycle of caffeine addiction generally starts with a trigger, typically feeling tired or feeling like you don’t have enough energy to complete your daily tasks. Those feelings lead to the subconscious belief that if you don’t have caffeine, you won’t be able to focus and tend to your responsibilities, which could lead to negative consequences. This belief stimulates a stress response in your body and an unrelenting craving to drink coffee or some other caffeinated beverage. Naturally, these cravings lead you to perform the maladaptive action of consuming caffeine. You experience a temporary increase in energy, which confirms to your brain that consuming caffeine was the right decision. This “reward” leads you to make the same decision the next time you feel tired. Like other drugs, however, caffeine is not actually correcting the underlying reason for your fatigue. Instead, it temporarily blocks the effects of adenosine[4], which is a neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain and induces feelings of tiredness. Once the effects of the caffeine wear off after several hours, you feel tired again, which feeds back into the cycle and causes you to crave coffee once again. Each time this cycle is repeated, you’re reinforcing a neural pathway in your brain for caffeine addiction. Additionally, physical addiction will eventually kick in, causing you to experience withdrawal symptoms if you don’t consume as much caffeine as you usually do. Naturally, this chemical addiction also feeds into the vicious cycle. While anyone can become addicted to caffeine, research suggests that some people are more sensitive to caffeine[5] than others and more vulnerable to addiction, possibly due to genetics[2].

How Do You Know If You’re Addicted to Caffeine?

Caffeine addiction is not a formally recognized condition in the DSM-5, a manual used by clinicians to classify and diagnose mental health concerns, however, the manual does mention a few caffeine-related issues, including intoxication and withdrawal.

Generally speaking, you can tell you’re addicted to caffeine if it disrupts your life in a negative way, yet you’re unable to reduce or eliminate your consumption. Another telltale sign of addiction is experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as the ones listed earlier in this article.

It’s important to note, however, that caffeine addiction can look and feel like other disorders. For example, the symptoms of caffeine addiction can overlap with those of attention deficit disorders, anxiety disorders, viral illnesses, sleep disorders, and medication side effects. Therefore, it’s important to visit your doctor if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms. Through an evaluation and testing, your doctor will be able to determine whether or not your symptoms are the result of caffeine or some other condition.

How Caffeine Addiction is Treated

Traditionally, the only method of treating caffeine addiction is to stop consuming it. Quitting caffeine suddenly, or “cold turkey,” however, is not recommended, as withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Rather, people are generally encouraged to gradually decrease their caffeine consumption, which can help reduce or eliminate withdrawal effects. For example, a person could reduce their caffeine consumption by a quarter cup every one to three days until they’ve eliminated it completely.

While some people can successfully wean themselves off caffeine, many have trouble discontinuing use, or can’t resist the urge to drink it after they’ve quit. This is because they likely haven’t addressed the neurological component of caffeine addiction. Without addressing this portion of the addiction, your brain will continue to send messages that you need coffee to function, and it will be difficult to abstain.

Moving Beyond Caffeine Addiction

So, what is the most effective way to overcome caffeine addiction? The first step to overcoming your addiction to caffeine is realizing and acknowledging that caffeine addiction is not you, but rather a chemical pattern you’re stuck in. It’s simply an addiction to feeling a certain way.

The next step entails changing the story you’re telling yourself about needing caffeine to function. This is where re-origin really shines. Our neuroplasticity-based program focuses on interrupting maladaptive neural pathways in the brain that are perpetuating your caffeine addiction.

Using specific neurocognitive exercises, re-origin helps you systematically work to create new, neural pathways that lead to new behaviors. After rewiring your brain, feeling tired won’t trigger the immediate need for caffeine. Instead, you’ll be able to realize that you can accomplish your responsibilities without using caffeine as a crutch. With time, practice, and patience, your compulsion to consume caffeine will fade away, as your brain will no longer be conditioned to seek the reward of a caffeine rush.

Throughout this process, you’ll also work to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption through incremental training. Many people are pleasantly surprised by how much better they feel when they eliminate caffeine from their lives.

re-origin’s approach digs deeper than simply eliminating the chemical addiction. It works to rewire your brain and change your belief system surrounding caffeine, thereby eliminating your cravings and promoting long-lasting results.

The program is easy to follow, self-directed, cost-effective, and takes just minutes a day to implement. Plus, re-origin offers access to a community and coaching specifically geared towards helping people retrain their brains and reclaim their well-being.

How to Live and Cope with Limbic Cross-Wiring

At re-origin, we believe that nobody should have to live or cope with the effects of limbic cross-wiring. We want you to eliminate your symptoms and conditions and re-establish peace, happiness, and health.

By applying our step-by-step method, you’ll learn to decouple and destroy old neurological associations that may be keeping you stuck and replace them with positive neural pathways that propel you forward. This is done gradually with a process called incremental training. With dedication and repetition, you can break free from the shackles of your limbic system impairment and regain the freedom to live life on your terms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Caffeine enhances dopamine signaling[6] in the brain, but not nearly as much as substances such as cocaine, nicotine, or morphine. As such, caffeine is considered to be a milder substance and less addictive than other addictive substances. Nevertheless, caffeine is addictive and regular use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal. Additionally, drinking coffee tends to produce positive feelings and energy, which encourages the user to repeat the behavior.
Studies have indicated[7] that people who consume a minimum of 100mg of caffeine per day (about the amount in one cup of coffee) can develop physical dependence that would trigger withdrawal symptoms. In the U.S., 90 percent of adults consume caffeine regularly, and among them, the average consumption is more than 200mg of caffeine per day[8]. Those statistics suggest that the majority of Americans are experiencing some level of caffeine addiction.
If you find that you need a cup of coffee or two to function, you could run into physical and mental problems with prolonged use. When you’re tired, your body is telling you it needs rest, not caffeine. By forcing your body to remain alert when it wants to rest, you run the risk of further depleting your already tired body and mind. This can lead to sleep issues, anxiety, low mood, and a number of other physical symptoms. A much better approach is to address your fatigue by getting more sleep, practicing better self-care, and using re-origin to break the loops in your brain that are perpetuating your caffeine addiction.
Caffeine addiction isn’t a mental disorder. Rather, it’s the result of physical and psychological dependence on a substance. Thankfully, you can break this maladaptive habit by gradually reducing your caffeine intake and addressing the faulty neural pathways in your brain that are stimulating your caffeine cravings.

A Final Word from re-origin

Whether it’s a hot cup of coffee in the morning, an energy drink mid-day, or a fancy latte at your favorite cafe, caffeine is a huge part of modern society. Millions of people rely on this drug for energy, motivation, and focus, feeling as though they can’t properly function without it. While caffeine may give you more energy, the effect is temporary and can often leave you feeling even more tired than before. This is because caffeine stimulates the release of stress hormones[9], which causes your body to go into “fight or flight” mode. This is actually the last thing your body needs if it’s tired and run down. Consuming caffeine can be particularly detrimental if you’re suffering from a limbic system disorder, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity, post-viral fatigue, anxiety, OCD, or chronic Lyme disease. Why? Because with these disorders, your brain is already in a chronic state of fight or flight. Consuming caffeine essentially revs up your overactive brain and body even more, potentially increasing symptoms. While some people don’t experience any negative repercussions from their daily coffee habit, for others, it can lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and subsequent consequences. If you’re in this boat, take a deep breath—you’re human. Caffeine is everywhere and it is easy to become dependent on it. While it may feel distressing to be dependent on a drug, you can completely overcome your caffeine addiction by gradually reducing your intake and breaking conditioned patterns in your brain. If you’re ready to reclaim your energy and break free from caffeine addiction once and for all, get started with re-origin today. With our proprietary neuroplasticity training program, you can undo the faulty wiring in your brain and learn to live a happy, healthy, caffeine-free life! Learn more about the re-origin program with a free trial at re-origin.com/neuroplasticity-training-program/.

References

  1. Heckman, M. A., Weil, J., & de Mejia, E. G. (2010). Caffeine (1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) in Foods: A Comprehensive Review on Consumption, Functionality, Safety, and Regulatory Matters. Journal of Food Science, 75(3), R77–R87. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01561.x
  2. Meredith, S. E., Juliano, L. M., Hughes, J. R., & Griffiths, R. R. (2013). Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda. Journal of caffeine research, 3(3), 114–130. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3777290/
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15496-caffeine-how-to-hack-it-and-how-to-quit-it
  4. Dunwiddie, T. V., & Masino, S. A. (2001). The Role and Regulation of Adenosine in the Central Nervous System. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 24(1), 31–55. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.neuro.24.1.31
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678
  6. Volkow, N. D., Wang, G. J., Logan, J., Alexoff, D., Fowler, J. S., Thanos, P. K., Wong, C., Casado, V., Ferre, S., & Tomasi, D. (2015). Caffeine increases striatal dopamine D2/D3 receptor availability in the human brain. Translational psychiatry, 5(4), e549. Available From:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4462609/
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caffeine_dependence
  8. Barone, J., & Roberts, H. (1996). Caffeine consumption. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 34(1), 119–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/0278-6915(95)00093-3
  9. Lovallo, W. R., Whitsett, T. L., al’Absi, M., Sung, B. H., Vincent, A. S., & Wilson, M. F. (2005). Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels. Psychosomatic medicine, 67(5), 734–739. Available From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/