Addiction Awareness

Addiction, trauma and mental health

What is caffeine addiction?

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Caffeine belongs to a class of compounds called xanthines, its chemical formula being 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Caffeine is classified together with cocaine and amphetamines as an analeptic, or central nervous system stimulant. Coffee is the most abundant source of caffeine, although caffeine is also found in tea, cocoa, and cola beverages as well as in over-the-counter and prescription medications for pain relief.

When a person ingests caffeine it is absorbed from the digestive tract without being broken down. It is rapidly distributed throughout the tissues of the body by means of the bloodstream. If a pregnant woman drinks a cup of coffee or tea, the caffeine in the drink will cross the placental barrier and enter the baby’s bloodstream.

When the caffeine reaches the brain, it increases the secretion of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with the “fight or flight” stress response. The rise in norepinephrine levels and the increased activity of the neurons, or nerve cells, in many other areas of the brain creates symptoms which resemble those of a panic attack.

The effects of caffeine are thought to occur as a result of competitive antagonism at adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a water-soluble compound of adenine and ribose; it functions to modulate the activities of nerve cells and produces a mild sedative effect when it activates certain types of adenosine receptors. Caffeine competes with adenosine to bind at these receptors and counteracts the sedative effects of the adenosine. If the person stops drinking coffee, the adenosine has no competition for activating its usual receptors and may produce a sedative effect that is experienced as fatigue or drowsiness.

To meet DSM-IV-TR criteria for caffeine intoxication, a person must develop five or more of the twelve symptoms listed below; the symptoms must cause significant distress or impair the person’s social or occupational functioning; and the symptoms must not be caused by a medical disorder or better accounted for by an anxiety disorder or other mental disorder.

• restlessness
• nervousness
• excitement
• insomnia
• flushed face
• diuresis (increased urinary output)
• gastrointestinal disturbance
• muscle twitching
• talking or thinking in a rambling manner
• tachycardia (speeded-up heartbeat) or disturbances of heart rhythm
• periods of inexhaustibility
• psychomotor agitation

The precise amount of caffeine necessary to produce symptoms varies from person to person depending on body size and degree of tolerance to caffeine. Tolerance of the stimulating effects of caffeine builds up rapidly in humans; mild withdrawal symptoms have been reported in persons who were drinking as little as one to two cups of coffee per day. As a rough guide though; caffeine can produce a range of physical symptoms following ingestion of as little as 100 mg, and amounts of 250 mg or higher are usually needed to produce symptoms that meet the criteria of caffeine intoxication.
As well as the above list people have reported ringing in the ears or seeing flashes of light at doses of caffeine above 250 mg. And if a person continues to ingest caffeine they may experience seizures, breathing difficulty and eventually death.


August 7, 2010 Posted by | addiction, caffeine, dependency, physical, psychological | , , , , | 1 Comment